While a B.C. Supreme Court ruling has upheld a Victoria council decision to reject a rezoning application for a Herald Street marijuana dispensary, others continue to operate, literally as close as next door to the shut down operation.
In September, Green Dragon Medicinal Society (541 Herald St.) had its application rejected on the basis of rules stipulating that dispensaries cannot operate within 400 metres of a school. The shop was less than 160 metres away from the Chinese Public School on Fisgard St.
Green Dragon appealed council’s rejection, seeking to have the courts quash that ruling.
But in his decision, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson wrote:
“In my opinion, the conclusion by a municipal council, without holding a public hearing, that a storefront cannabis retailer operation in proximity to a location where children and young people will be found in numbers should not be permitted, is a decision that falls within the range of reasonable outcomes on an application by such a retailer for rezoning.
“I am also satisfied that in rejecting Green Dragon’s application and in declining to submit it to a public hearing, the City met its statutory procedural obligations and there was no breach of any common law procedural fairness obligations.”
The court granted the City’s request for an injunction to allow bylaw officers to shut down the operation. A person contacted at Green Dragon who would not give his name confirmed the shop was permanently closed and that he was “cleaning out” the shop.
“We’re out of here and Victoria will never see us again,” he said, while berating the City for what he claimed were unfair and inconsistent enforcement to their rules.
While the recent court victory may help facilitate the City’s attempts to shut down dispensaries that don’t meet the criteria set out in regulations enacted in September, it hasn’t resulted in closure of other pot shops for which rezoning was similarly rejected by council.
Phone calls to Shadow Mountain at 543 Herald St. and Melt Town at 2650 Quadra St. confirmed that both outlets continue to operate, despite no proper zoning in place to do so.
Mayor Lisa Helps sees the court ruling as a positive development in what has become a difficult situation for Canadian municipalities. The federal government plans to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes this July, but has left regulatory details in limbo.
“We faced a challenge right now in regulating these shops in that we could face a court challenge every time we try to shut one down,” said Helps. “At least with this precedent, the court has said we have the right to enact our bylaws and to enforce them.”
She added it’s unfortunate that some dispensaries are choosing to ignore the by-laws, forcing the City to use taxpayer money to take them to court.
The City has filed other injunctions against non-compliant shops. In the interim, confirmed City spokesperson Rebecca Kerswell, bylaw officers continue to issue tickets onsite for offences ranging from having no business licence to allowing consumption on site, and on to a full range of violations of virtually every portion of the city’s by-law regulations.
As of Jan. 26 the City had issued 212 tickets to pot dispensaries, with fines totalling more than $150,000, said Kerswell. Most are being disputed, she added, meaning that most have not been paid.