Compassion Club wins appeal to remain open just days ahead of deadline for dispensaries to close

The city has granted one of Vancouver’s oldest marijuana dispensaries permission to remain open. Late yesterday (April 20), the board

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The city has granted one of Vancouver’s oldest marijuana dispensaries permission to remain open.

Late yesterday (April 20), the board of variance unanimously decided to allow the B.C. Compassion Club Society to continue to sell medicinal marijuana.

The cannabis storefront is located at 2995 Commercial Drive, which falls within 300 metres of two schools. That puts it in contravention of zoning bylaws for marijuana businesses that the city passed last June.

For that reason, the Compassion Club was denied a business license when it applied through the city’s new regulatory framework for dispensaries. It appealed that decision to the variance board, and at its hearing yesterday, was granted an exemption from the distance requirements. It can now proceed to the next step in the licensing process.

In a telephone interview, one of the club’s founders, Hilary Black, said the positive result was not a sure thing.

“It’s a very big relief,” she told the Straight. “On the one hand, I felt quite confident. On the other hand, I was terrified.”

Black explained the Compassion Club does violate one of the city’s new bylaws.

“There is a school right across the street from us, so there was a very good chance that we wouldn’t have gotten that variance, which would have had such detrimental effects on the members of the club,” she said. “And the bylaws wouldn’t have made sense if the oldest, most conservative, really serious medical organization didn’t make it through the system.”

Black noted the group had letters of support from both schools as well as from other neighbours, a petition with hundreds of signatures, and a number of patients who came out to speak to the board to explain the hardship they said they would suffer if the dispensary was closed.

The Compassion Club opened its doors in 1997 and today serves more than 6,000 clients a year.

Vancouver became the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a regulatory framework for the over-the-counter sale of cannabis when city council passed a series of bylaw amendments and created a new category of business license in June 2015.

In the rush that followed, the city received 176 applications. Since then, a majority have dropped out of the race by failing to meet subsequent deadlines for paperwork or were kicked out by the city finding them in contravention of the new bylaws.

Sixty-two dispensaries found to be in contravention of the city’s bylaws filed appeals with the board of variance. So far, the board has only granted three others exemptions. The appeals process is scheduled to continue through to the end of November.

The next board hearing is scheduled for May 4.

In an interview with the Straight earlier this month, Andreea Toma, director of licensing and property-use inspections for the City of Vancouver, said dispensaries that have not received approval to continue with the licensing process must close their doors by April 29.

She acknowledged that will leave some businesses in limbo as the variance board hearings will continue until November. Toma said that means storefronts that do continue to sell marijuana past the April 29 deadline will not necessarily see the Vancouver police charging through their doors on the morning of April 30.

“That depends on the relationship that they’ve established with us over the last two months,” she said. “It’s based on the information that we have to date, in terms of what kind of an operation they are running.”

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