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Municipalities will follow Vancouver's lead on marijuana: councillor

06/30/2015 01:10 EDT | Updated 06/30/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - The Conservative government's "ideological" changes to federal medicinal marijuana rules will prompt other cities to follow Vancouver's lead and regulate pot shops on their own, a local councillor says.

Kerry Jang said he has heard from other municipalities, including Victoria, that are eyeing Vancouver's new bylaws to manage a recent spike in medicinal pot businesses.

Last week, Vancouver became the first Canadian municipality to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, requiring operators to pay a $30,000 licensing fee and locate at least 300 metres away from community centres, schools, and each other.

Jang said the city was forced to respond due to the federal government's failures, which have fuelled the growth of dispensaries.

"It is the total mishandling of the medical marijuana issue that has created the vacuum that has allowed all of these shops to open up across the country," Jang said in a phone interview.

"It is very clear when you have our chief medical officer for the City of Vancouver coming out and saying, 'Guess what, the federal regulations caused this problem, so we've got to fix it.'"

Shortly after the decision was announced last week, Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was "deeply disappointed" to learn a municipality would take regulating medical marijuana storefronts into its own hands.

The disappointment is mutual, Jang said.

"All the federal minister can do is say how outraged she is with the Supreme Court... and that she's gravely disappointed with the City of Vancouver," Jang said.

"Well, quite frankly, we are gravely disappointed with the federal government and this health minister for not coming to the table and working with us."

Ambrose was not available for an interview on Tuesday, but she offered a statement through a spokesman.

"Storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and under our government will remain illegal," said press secretary Michael Bolkenius. "We expect the police to enforce the law."

Jang said the bylaws give the city more power to target "bad actors."

"Those pot shops where there was clear evidence of organized crime, we shut them down," he said. "We've gotten warrants, we've raided them. We've done that. Those that are selling to kids, we stopped them."

Victoria MP and NDP health critic Murray Rankin accused the Conservatives of botching the medical marijuana file.

"The mayor of Vancouver is doing what a responsible municipality should do in the face of the chaos that the ... federal government's simple-minded approach has created," Rankin said.

"He's looking after the interests of his community using the powers of zoning and land-use that are available to the municipality of Vancouver."

Rankin agrees other municipalities are going to be faced with "exactly the same issue."

In 2013, the federal government indicated Health Canada would get out of the business of producing pot for patients. New rules took effect a year later, which opened up a commercial industry "responsible for the production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes."

The changes also dismantled a departmental system that was borne of a 2001 Supreme Court ruling which upheld marijuana access rights for patients.

In June, the top court redefined medicinal pot and unanimously ruled it can be legally consumed in a number of ways, including brownies, teas and cooking oils.

The government continues to say it "does not endorse the use of marijuana, but the courts have required reasonable access" to authorized patients.

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