Public hearings begin Wednesday to help fine-tune Vancouver's plans to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries – and shape a policy that one advocate says will be copied by cities across Canada.
Dana Larsen, director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society and operator of two dispensaries, noted the City of Victoria has already cited Vancouver as a model for policies it is developing as it grapples with the issue.
"A lot of smaller cities don't have the resources to devote time and staff effort to analyzing this and figuring out what these rules should be," Mr. Larsen said in an interview on Tuesday. "They're going to copy whatever Vancouver does and tweak it a little bit for their own community."
Mr. Larsen said he does not expect the hearings will lead Canada's third-largest city to significantly change its proposed licensing regime, which his organization largely supports.
On the agenda for debate: Vancouver is considering the creation of a special business licence category for "marijuana-related" businesses, including dispensaries, and policies that include a $30,000 yearly licensing fee as well as buffer zones.
(For more on Vancouver's dispensaries, read The Globe's in-depth explainer: Vancouver's pot shops: Everything you need to know about marijuana dispensaries)
The key concern of dispensaries represented by Mr. Larsen is "excessive" buffer zones mandating distances between dispensaries as well as distancing them from schools and community centres. He said he expects the measures will eliminate two-thirds of the 98 dispensaries in the city.
At least 90 people are scheduled to address city council during the hearings, which begin Wednesday night and could run into another day.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and other members of council are avoiding comment on the proceedings while they're in process.
Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer, is not attending the hearings, but offered his thoughts nonetheless.
"I would probably say that the city is proceeding in a pragmatic way to satisfy a number of concerns – a) access to marijuana, b) public concerns, c)keeping it out of the hands of kids, d)trying to regulate in an area where, theoretically, you can't regulate an illegal product.
"It's trying to move to satisfy, in a pragmatic way, what is probably going to be an inevitable position in a number of years where we have a regulated framework for cannabis like they do in Washington [State]."
But on the eve of the hearings, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who has urged the city not to proceed with its plan, issued a call for the public to make their concerns known to city council.
"We encourage members of the public to attend the City of Vancouver's public hearings to voice their views on this plan," Ms. Ambrose said in a statement that largely repeated her previously stated concerns about regulating "illegal" drug dispensaries.
She noted protocols already exist to supply patients access to marijuana prescribed by doctors for medical needs. And she suggested, again, that youth who smoke marijuana face increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia.
Ms. Ambrose also brought up federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has proposed some form of legalization, declaring "Marijuana storefronts form part of Justin Trudeau's plan to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity and make it available in stores across Canada just like alcohol and cigarettes."
Mr Trudeau's press secretary took issue with the minister's comments. "As usual, [Ms. Ambrose] doesn't address the actual issue and decides to take a run to attack her opponents," Cameron Ahmad said in an interview.
He noted the public hearings are important. "It's always good to hear people voice their concerns and opinions. The fact that the city of Vancouver had to step in an propose a regulatory framework is a testimony to the fact that the Conservative government hasn't taken leadership."
Mr. Ahmad said the status quo is funding criminal elements instead of reducing the use of marijuana.