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Despite Federal Warnings, Vancouver Votes to License Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

It's the first Canadian city to establish a medical marijuana shop regime, which includes a $30,000 licensing fee and limits proximity to schools. The health minister quickly expressed her deep disappointment.

by Justin Ling
Jun 24 2015, 9:05pm

Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Even with the Canadian government demanding the city shut down its pot dispensaries, Vancouver has established regulations permitting the sale of medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, the city's council voted eight-to-three to approve the regulations, which would slap dispensaries — which currently number nearly 100 — with a $30,000 fee if they want to keep their doors open, and forbids them from operating within 300 meters of a school, community center, and each other.

It's the first Canadian city to establish a regime that regulates the medical marijuana industry, which took off after courts ruled access to the bud for medical purposes is legal. However, there are just a smattering of licensed producers across the country, and only 17 are permitted to distribute pot, via mail, to patients.

Vancouver's new regulations will also ban dispensaries from opening up in the city's infamous Downtown Eastside, which has one of the highest violent crime and drug use rates in the country.

The regulations will also require extensive background checks, security plans, and surveillance cameras.

The new regulations also appear to ban the sale of food in the dispensaries, except for cooking oils.

The practical effect of the new rules will likely be to decrease the number of dispensaries in Vancouver, and stunt the growth of the industry in the city, which has doubled in size over the last two years.

But while the new rules promise to be costly for many of the dispensaries — although not-for-profit shops will pay only $1,000 in fees — they may find it better than the current reality in cities like Kelowna, where police have been aggressively raiding any dispensary bold enough to open its doors.

As VICE News reported in April, the federal government wants police to do the same in Vancouver, irrespective of what city council wants.

When asked whether the federal government would task the federal police service to raid the dispensaries, or whether they want local police to handle it, a spokesperson for the public safety minister said only: "we expect all local cities and police to respect and enforce the law."

A statement from Health Minister Rona Ambrose released Wednesday underscores the government's opposition.

"As Health Minister, I am deeply disappointed by the City of Vancouver's decision to 'regulate' illegal marijuana storefronts across the city," the statement reads. "Storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and under this Conservative government will remain illegal. We expect the police to enforce the law."

Ambrose used the statement to go after Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who is so far the only leader to call for outright legalization of marijuana.

"These stores have absolutely no regard for the rule of law and have been caught selling marijuana to kids - they represent Justin Trudeau's vision for Canadian neighbourhoods from coast to coast to coast," reads the statement.

The one store caught selling marijuana to a minor was raided by police, and the ownership promised to deal with whatever employee allowed it to happen.

The Supreme Court of Canada legalized the possession of edibles earlier this month, and while it appears to be an indication that the top court will be looking to take apart other aspects of the law that criminalize the sale of marijuana to patients with a prescription, the tightly-regulated industry is still forbidden from selling marijuana over-the-counter.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling