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Vancouver to hear from public on pot shops as federal government protests

Vancouver city council has decided to hold a public hearing on its proposal to regulate marijuana shops as the federal government made new demands for the controversial plan to be dropped.


May 5, 2015
By Laura Kane The Canadian Press

The vote was not unanimous, as Coun. Elizabeth Ball said the city has no
right to regulate dispensaries for pot because it’s illegal in Canada.

"We
need to work with our federal government if we want to do things right.
As a lawmaker, I can’t say, ‘Oh, I pick and choose this law.’ I can’t,"
Ball said outside chambers.

The city is considering new
regulations to control illegal pot dispensaries. The rules would include
a $30,000 licensing fee and require stores to be 300 metres from
schools, community centres and each other.

Since 2012, pot
dispensaries have quadrupled in Vancouver, going from fewer than 20 to
80 now. The city has blamed the rise on federal law changes that
restricted medical marijuana access.

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The federal government has
balked at the city’s proposal and last week sent new letters to
Vancouver’s council, police and health authority warning against
regulation.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety
Minister Steven Blaney co-signed a letter to council and police warning
that storefront sales of marijuana are illegal.

"Like the vast
majority of Canadians, the government expects that police will enforce
the laws of Canada as written," the letter said.

In a separate
letter, Health Canada told Vancouver Coastal Health’s chief medical
health officer Dr. Patricia Daly that the federal laws are the "best
model" for enabling patient access.

The laws, which prevent
patients from growing their own pot and instead require them to buy it
from a commercial producer, are currently the subject of a court
challenge.

Daly told reporters outside council chambers that she
fully supports the city’s proposal and blames Health Canada’s rules for
the increase in pot shops in Vancouver.

"They’ve created a
program that has made it very, very difficult for people whose
physicians feel they can benefit from this product from getting access
to it in a timely way," she said.

A staff report that city manager Penny Ballem presented to council will now go to a public hearing.

The
report said less than a quarter of the 80 medical marijuana
dispensaries would likely be allowed to stay where they are if the city
approves the plan.

But the new rules could also create new
capacity for pot shops under new commercial zoning bylaws, potentially
increasing the number of stores to 100.

Dispensaries would have
to apply for a licence and face a review that would rank them based on
factors including the number of complaints and police incidents.

Where two nearby shops have the same ranking, a lottery would decide which one gets to stay.

The
report recommended not allowing food such as brownies because the city
can’t control the contents, but oils would be permitted.

Some
activists who attended the meeting expressed dismay about the food rule,
saying sick people shouldn’t be expected to cook their own medicine.


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