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Vancouver’s marijuana dispensaries in limbo until 2018

Marijuana is weighed at a dispensary in Vancouver.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The City of Vancouver has applied for injunctions to stop 53 marijuana dispensaries from operating without a business licence, but no one expects any of them to be shut down any time soon.

That's because the case won't be heard until September, 2018, with the lawyers for the dispensaries saying they will be challenging the city under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

By then, the federal government will have legalized marijuana, and the provincial government has indicated dispensaries may have a role to play once the product is legally available in British Columbia.

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In the meantime, Vancouver, which has been struggling with how to regulate a business that is actually illegal, will move ahead with the injunctions. It has been fining businesses as much as $1,000 a day with limited success, and there are almost six times as many illegal shops operating as licensed ones.

Still, the lawyers for the dispensaries say the case will go ahead, arguing that people who need medical marijuana are not being allowed reasonable access to it.

The city has granted business licenses to just 11 of the more than 100 dispensaries that were in operation two years ago when Vancouver decided to start regulating them, placing what the lawyers say are onerous restrictions on them.

"The city really came up with an elimination strategy disguised as a regulatory strategy," said Robert Laurie, one of the lawyers representing several dispensaries.

"The dispensaries are giving them two very informed middle fingers."

The application for injunctions involves operations in every part of the city, from Karuna Health Foundation in the 3600-block of West Fourth to Green Panda on downtown Robson Street to Herbal Pharmacy Supplement around 36th and Victoria.

Councillor Kerry Jang, who takes the lead on the file for the ruling Vision Vancouver party, says the process is frustrating.

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"The people who are illegal are laughing all the way to the bank," he said.

Many dispensaries have argued that the city's bylaws, which limit shops from opening within 300 metres of a school or community centre, are so restrictive that they leave them with no place to go, so they are staying put. Mr. Jang disagrees, noting there are many locations available to dispensaries.

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