The City of Victoria is pressing ahead with a plan to regulate its burgeoning marijuana dispensaries, tabling a host of ground rules for the illegal shops and seeking public input.
There are currently about 30 marijuana-related businesses in Victoria, the city says, including 26 storefront retailers. That means Victoria has more pot shops per capita than Vancouver.
(For more on illegal marijuana dispensaries in B.C. and elsewhere, read The Globe's in-depth explainer: Pot shops: Everything you need to know about marijuana dispensaries)
In response, the city has proposed 14 regulations, including an annual licensing fee ranging from $4,000 to $5,000. No one under the age of 19 will be permitted in such businesses, health warning signs must be posted and no one will be permitted to consume marijuana in dispensaries.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps underscored the urgency of establishing some ground rules while the federal government works on its plan to legalize marijuana – a process that could take years to come to fruition.
"Dispensaries are popping up way too quickly and without any regulation," Ms. Helps said on Wednesday. "It's causing instability. It's also not a level playing field; it's not fair for our other businesses."
The city will host an open house and town hall on the matter on Feb. 22. Ms. Helps said she hopes to see regulations finalized "as soon as possible" after that.
Vancouver became the first city in Canada to regulate dispensaries last year, when council approved a business-licensing system that imposed fees of up to $30,000 and limited where they can be located.
Ms. Helps suggested Victoria's regulations would have included higher fees, but the city was not permitted to do that because of differences in how Victoria and Vancouver are governed under provincial law. Victoria falls under the B.C. Community Charter, while Vancouver has its own charter that gives it different powers to set fees.
"[Victoria] can't charge more than what it is reasonably anticipated to cost us to deliver the service," the mayor said. "It's a bit troubling and why, in my opinion, we really need the federal government to step in, because it doesn't help when Vancouver has one set of regulations and Victoria has another."
Alex Robb, a spokesman for the Trees dispensary chain, which just opened its fourth location on Vancouver Island, said he wholeheartedly welcomes a licensing regime.
"We'd like to see it sooner than later, so the city can begin to recoup the cost of bylaw enforcement [while] the federal government comes up with whatever they have," he said.
However, he called Victoria's proposed regulations "a bit restrictive," citing, for example, the prohibition of edible marijuana products, such as pot brownies, and product delivery to customers.
Mr. Robb said he is also concerned that, under proposed guidelines, a storefront medical-marijuana retailer would not be allowed to conduct other business on-site.
"We would like to see that change so that they allow for health and wellness-oriented businesses," he said, adding that he hopes Trees' third Victoria location can one day be a multipurpose centre for education on "holistic health and wellness."
"We understand why they are hesitant to do that – the city doesn't want to open the doors to cannabis cafés and that kind of thing – but we think that's entirely different from what we're talking about."
Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said in a statement that the federal government will not be rushed as it moves to "legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to marijuana in a careful and orderly way."
"We will take the time that is necessary to get this right," said the government's point man on the file.