A meeting entitled “Learn how to make a successful medical marijuana business licence application” was held at Vancouver City Hall on August 10th, 2015. This is the second meeting organized by City staff to explain the process of applying for a retail marijuana licence.
A number of existing marijuana retail shops are currently operating in clear contravention of the recently passed bylaw. For example, there is a shop that opened at Granville and Nelson at a location prohibited under the new rules. There are also pot shops within 300 metres of schools and community centres (for example, two shops are within half a block of Ray-Cam on East Hastings). Finally, there are a number of marijuana dispensaries that are still operating and are located within 300 metres of each other. Did City Council pass a set of bylaws that it doesn’t intend to enforce? Or will these new bylaws be selectively enforced in the future?
Councillor Kerry Jang suggested that non-profit marijuana dispensaries turn to the Board of Variance (BoV) to seek exceptions to the new bylaw requirements for getting around the minimum separation requirements. Should the Board of Variance be used to circumvent the City’s new retail marijuana bylaws?
Gilbert Tan, a Vancouver architect and one of the four board of variance members, said any pot dispensary looking for a break from the buffer rules would have to prove the hardship they’re facing justifies their location.
“We really have to look at both sides,” he said. “What’s key from our perspective is it’s a fair and balanced look at both the applicant and also the impact of the neighbourhood.
“It’s certainly hard to say until you look at the very specific situation, as to how to go about it.”
The really interesting part about the Board of Variance bylaws is the fact that financial considerations are not to be considered as a “hardship” for an applicant. In other words, marijuana shops that do not conform to the new bylaws cannot ask for a bylaw relaxation by stating they have spent considerable sums of money in leasing and renovating their storefronts.
It’s also worth noting that residents are on an uneven playing field, as the ability to have 3rd party appeals has been removed. The Vision dominated Council has never reinstated 3rd party appeals, despite promises by former Councillor Tony Tang to do so. Hence the BoV’s decisions would be final and 3rd party appeals won’t be considered for residents who might otherwise challenge relaxations for marijuana dispensaries.
Other cities have bodies similar to Vancouver’s Board of Variance (sometimes called a Committee of Adjustment) to deal with bylaw relaxations.
City’s website provides a list of new BoV members, who started their terms on July 1, 2015. BoV members were appointed by a majority vote of Council (terms to end on June 30, 2018). Note that former Vision Vancouver City Councillor George Chow is now on the BoV. The new BoV members are: Gilbert Tan (Board Chair), George Chow, Jag Dhillon, Namtez (Babbu) Sohal and Martha Welsh.