Article by David Brown, Lift News
After a wave of well over a hundred medical cannabis dispensaries began operating in Vancouver in 2014, the city began to undertake a process to manage this unchecked proliferation through a licensing regime. Although Kimberly, BC was the first city to issue a business licence to a dispensary, Vancouver became the first large city anywhere in Canada to begin formally regulating medical cannabis dispensaries.
In 2015, the city announced their Medical Marijuana Related Use licensing regime (MMRU), receiving more than 100 applications, and issued their first license in May, 2016. Since the end of 2017, the city had issued 15 business licenses and about another 30 applicants are actively working their way through the three stage licensing process. In addition to these, the city lists 60 retail cannabis business operating without city approval that are ‘subject to enforcement’.
While the future of the city’s licensing regime and the dispensaries within it is still unknown, the Province of British Columbia has intimated that they are seeking to unveil a retail licensing plan in January, 2018 that could potentially allow cities like Vancouver to integrate their existing licensing programs and business into a retail, nonmedical cannabis market.
What this will mean for dispensaries is still an unknown. The city says they will continue to license dispensaries until the federal and provincial frameworks are in place. Some dispensaries who have already received their licence remain hopeful, while those still trying to navigate the lengthy and often confusing licensing process are more frustrated. CAMCD, the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, who helped consult with the city in their MMRU licensing program, helped connect Lift with some of their members who are at different stages in the licensing process to discuss where they see the future of Vancouver dispensaries going, and what other cities might be able to learn from the city.
Sunrise Wellness Foundation
Ehren Richardson, the VP of CAMCD, as well as the Director at Sunrise Wellness, a dispensary currently making its way through the city’s licensing program, says he thinks Vancouver’s progressive approach to managing dispensaries will give the city an advantage in a future legal recreational market.
“Many other municipalities may see the number of dispensaries defying the city of Vancouver as a negative, but they must remember that Vancouver was the first in the city to introduce a medical cannabis retail bylaw, which was as forward thinking, as were the safe injection sites.
“What other cities can learn from Vancouver is vast. Some of the standout lessons: consider your board of variance before you finalize your bylaw so that your BOV is not overwhelmed with appeals; 300 meter distancing is arbitrary and compared to liquor store distancing is ridiculous; consider your zoning carefully so that you do not end up concentrating dispensaries in certain areas of your municipality; make your license fee reasonable and base it on revenue, not a flat rate, because there are large and small volume dispensaries and often it is the small volume dispensaries that are good actors but have difficulty affording all the fees.”
CAMCD is a non-profit established to help promote a regulated, community-based approach to medical cannabis access. Sunrise Wellness is a retail location operating in Vancouver since early 2014, with two locations in the final stage of the city’s licensing process.
One retailer that has successfully made it through the city’s licensing program, Aura Cannabis, operating in since 2014, sees a lot of potential for other cities to learn from Vancouver. Andrew Gordon, Aura’s Director of Operations, says the licensing process wasn’t easy, but that the city was active in working with businesses to help ensure they could meet all criteria. Maintaining a positive relationship with not only the city, but with their neighbours has been key to their success, he says.
“Of course, there have been challenges negotiating an uncharted process,” says Gordon, “however, the city has been supportive and cooperative. We ensured we understood and complied with the regulations and sought to be good community citizens so there was little push back from the community. We will continue to maintain close communication with regulators at all levels of government on issues concerning licensing and community development.”