The mad rush for pot shops in Victoria is quiet for now, just in time for new provincial regulations to kick in and shift the regulatory landscape completely. Two years after introducing a set of bylaws to license and zone weed retailers, councilors in Victoria City sent to public hearing the last of the active applications for zoning just this week.
“I think the landscape will change,” explained Chris Coleman, acting mayor. “Part of it will be a market response where some validly authorized marijuana dispensaries will be an economic go and some will not, and they will fail. The second half of that will be the enforcement against those that have not chosen to go through the city’s process.”
Back in 2016, Victoria led the entire region by becoming the very first municipality to regulate weed outlets, requiring marijuana stores, many of which were already operating in full swing, to acquire rezoning before applying for a business license. Initially, the new regulations did not permit pot shops within 200 meters of any schools or other retail outlets. An amendment changed this to 400 meters.
The city processed applications on a first-come, first-served basis. Because of the distance rule, hopeful retailers rushed about to stake their claim on every nook and cranny of the city, before somebody else set up shop before them. Come October 17, when Canada will legalize recreational sales and use and stores must have approval from provincial governments, licensed shops will face brand new regulations.
Coleman never thought the city would take so long to process all the applications. Before city regulation, pot sales “were underground and wild West,” he said, adding that Victoria likely expected the federal government to draft its legislation faster than it did. “We are being held out as an area that has been progressive on it,” he explained.
He also said, “I am not sure if that means it was worth it, but it is better that we are working toward a system that eventually, across the country, will see the legitimate use of marijuana, and not just the medical side.” The new rules will require existing dispensers to apply for a license through the province, while obtaining zoning authorization from their local government.
All recreational pot shops in British Columbia, both privately owned and government-run, will have to buy their pot supplies wholesale from the Liquor Distribution Branch. Since Victoria began its process of regulation back in 2016, roughly 40 hopefuls have sent in applications for marijuana storefronts. Of those, 14 received rezoning and three obtained temporary use permits.
According to city staff, the city has granted 10 business licenses to retailers, with another seven still going through the process. Of the rest, several have shut their stores voluntarily. A court action closed one of them, the Green Dragon Medicinal Society, once located at 541 Herald Street. The city received an injunction to close its doors from the B.C. Supreme Court Justice.
The Green Dragon did not qualify for a zoning permit because of its location, which was just 155 meters from the Chinese Public School at 636 Fisgard Street. The city also convicted one of the operators of Terp City, another outlet on 1412 Douglas Street, on 32 bylaw tickets, with a whopping number of fines adding up to $24,500.
City staff claims that 11 previously operating retailers are no longer in business, some because the city rejected their rezoning applications and others because of enforcement efforts. All is quiet in Victoria’s marijuana industry currently, but come October 17, activity will start buzzing all over again, just under an entirely new set of laws and regulations.