Vancouver Refuses to Grant Marijuana Dispensaries a Business Licence

In June 2015, Vancouver became the first city to vote to regulate and license medical marijuana dispensaries at a public hearing. But only a few months later, approximately 6% of applications were successful. The vast majority of those applying for business licences have been denied.

The regulations state that medical marijuana-related businesses are only allowed to operate in commercial zones away from schools, neighbourhood houses, youth facilities serving vulnerable youth, and other marijuana-related businesses. These marijuana dispensaries can only operate with a business licence at a fee of $1,000 for compassion clubs and $30,000 for medical marijuana-related retail dealers, with a development permit that includes a community notification process, and with a signed good neighbour agreement.

The city of Vancouver adopted these regulations for several reasons. First, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries grow by 100% per year from 2013 and 2015 and there’s a lack of clear and transparent regulatory framework at the federal level. In addition, the regulations have been adopted in order to hopefully achieve a balance between adequate availability of medical cannabis for those in need as well as community security, health and safety.

Currently, only 16 marijuana dispensaries, out of the 176 that applied for licences under Vancouver’s new regulations, have received the go ahead. These include Stress and Depressed Association, The Green Room Society, The Buddha Barn, Apple Health Society, Wealthshop Social Society, Apollo Medical Society, BC Pain Society, Westcoast Medicann Society, EVO Medi Society, Medicinal Express (two locations), MPN Health Society, Scooter Health Society, The Herb Co., The Healing Centre, and the Urban Earth Med Society.

Location, Location, Location

Most of the marijuana dispensaries had their applications for a business licence denied because of their location. Some were too close to schools, others were too close to community centres, and others were in too close proximity to other marijuana retailers. The rules are clear: dispensaries must be set up at least 300 metres away from schools, recreation centres, and other marijuana retailers in order to be approved for a business licence.

Even the BC Compassion Club Society, which has been in business for 18 years and is the city’s oldest dispensary, has had its application denied because it’s located across the street from Stratford Hall Private School.

Appeal or Move

And as the Vancouver board of variance has denied appeals for many of the retailers, Chief Licensing Inspector Andrea Toma believes the best step to be taken by those who were denied is to set up shop in a different location and re-apply, rather than to continue appealing the decisions. Otherwise, they have six months to close their doors if they don’t move.

Moving is easier said than done, though, as many of these marijuana dispensaries are non-profits without much money. Moving to a different area will likely lead to an increase in rent, which means they’ll have to make cuts to the healthcare services they provide members. Others cannot find new rentals that meet the city’s strict guidelines.

Too Close to Other Dispensaries

However, 30 of the 176 marijuana dispensaries that did not receive approval on their first applications are now being moved to a secondary, competitive licensing stage. For these 30 stores, the only issue is that they’re too close to another cannabis dispensary. They now have the chance to make their case based on many factors, including community complaints and previous police contact. For these dispensaries, there is still hope of staying alive.

Didn’t Apply? Close Your Doors

The cannabis retailers that did not apply for a licence, perhaps in an attempt to stay off of the city’s radar or to avoid being denied altogether, business isn’t going to continue as usual. They, too, have been asked to close their doors immediately, or risk facing legal action and fines.