In a move that complicated an already murky picture of legality, Vancouver City Council voted on Wednesday to regulate the city’s medical dispensaries and drew ire from the country’s conservative government that considers cannabis illegal.
The city will now require a $30,000 licensing fee to open a medical dispensary — the highest permit cost possible in the city — and will impose zoning regulations to prevent stores from operating with 300 meters from schools, community centers or other dispensaries.
“For the city council, our choice was do we leave this as a free-for-all and let these dispensaries continue to proliferate around the city — close to schools and wherever they felt like setting up, or do we step in and regulate and put a common sense approach in place to manage the location of these dispensaries,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in a press conference after the vote.
Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose responded to the vote with a blistering statement condemning the council’s actions as legitimizing the medical marijuana dispensaries that the government doesn’t endorse.
“This Conservative Government wants to stop kids from smoking marijuana and we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier,” she wrote in the statement. “The City’s own medical officials predict that dispensaries will make marijuana cookies and candies more accessible to youth.”
However, City Councillor Kerry Jang said in the press conference that the regulations are simply “putting structure where no structure exists” in an effort to explicitly protect children.
The city council’s regulations will also ban all baked edibles in an attempt to keep children from mistakenly eating the candies. The city says this ban does not violate the Canadian Supreme Court’s recent ruling that legalized access to all forms of medical cannabis, because marijuana edibles will still be available as oils, tinctures and capsules.
“People can still get marijuana in edible form, but not as candies and baked goods that will be appealing to children,” said Mayor Robertson in the press conference.
In terms of how the new regulations will be enforced, the city said their staff will warn, fine and file injunctions against the dispensaries that are not in compliance. The police chief will still have independent jurisdiction over arresting owners or closing dispensaries, as cannabis is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada, though the courts have required “reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when authorized by a healthcare practitioner.”
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