City’s stumbling pot policies get lost in the weed

It is somewhat amusing to see the city making a meal out of the fact it has licensed the first dispensary. For one year’s work, one licence! 

When the mayor declared we wanted to be the greenest city in the world, I didn’t realize this was what he meant.

The shambolic situation right now with the city’s marijuana dispensaries has left Vancouver very, very vulnerable.

The businesses know it and are taking advantage.

The city leaders know it and are taking cover.

It is clear that the city, like a bad chess player who does not think more than one move at a time, did not anticipate that the fines for continuing to operate without a business licence and without a police crackdown – in some cases for years now – would merely become the cost of doing business.

What was once considered a sensible regime to regulate as we await a legislative legalization and federal-provincial framework to launch an open season of cannabis capitalism has – terribly bad pun intended – gone to pot.

It would be unsurprising if there were a resurgence in new shops in the time ahead. I would expect they are – another terribly bad pun intended – waiting in the weeds.

After all, why not? The illegal incumbents are fearless squatters for good reason. Our watchdog has a mild bark and no fangs.

The annual business licence is $30,000. The $250 daily fine for operating without one is about triple that, assuming the beleaguered inspectors can visit and issue a ticket. Judging by other media reports of the revenue stream of the dispensaries, the fine is what some shops earn by the first serious round of munchies in late morning.

It is true the city can go to court to seek $10,000 fines and enlist the police to enforce closure, but that battle is rather fruitless. By the time the legal process is exhausted, there will be an evident legal and regulatory framework.

A top lawyer recently told me it would take a seven-figure commitment of resources to get through the courts to close just one offside facility. Even if it could press the point, who really wants that? The city says it has the budget to take on the illegal operations. But let’s be serious: the city isn’t serious.

The mayor – who has checked out of the job and, despite his protestations, is rumoured to be a recipient of the scheduled July round of federal patronage appointments – has popped his head up in recent days to barf on pipelines with nary a word on the stuff inside some pipes.

Instead, he and his majority Vision Vancouver council have put the city staff in a difficult position with an attitude of indifference about the illusion of enforcement.

The places that didn’t pass muster didn’t close as expected. Dispensaries are treating tickets like an acquired novelty item, suitable for framing – as in, ain’t getting paid. They’re hoping for a law that will make amnesty seem compassionate, that the city will have too much on its plate to deal with these edibles.

It’s apparent, too, that the city won’t get tough in the way Toronto did last week in raiding its illegally operating dispensaries. It is true they do not have rules, but it is also true our rules appear little better than none, and it is certainly true our rules won’t be stiffened.

It is somewhat amusing to see the city making a meal out of the fact it has licensed the first dispensary. For one year’s work, one licence!  But the Wealth Shop must feel played by the politicians. In Vancouver’s system, even when you flunk the test, you do not appear to fail the course.

We should have thought we were getting ahead of the curve, that our city could cultivate sophisticated business rules as a role model for other cities to set the stage for eventual legalization. Instead, on the way to the party, we are again taking the path through the Wild West.

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.