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City issues 44 tickets to marijuana shops

City says 22 pot dispensaries have closed their doors
Chuck Varabioff, owner of the B.C. Pain Society on Commercial Drive, with his $250 ticket for operating a business without a licence. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The city’s push to issue business licences to illegal marijuana dispensaries got more complicated over the weekend as 23 pot shops were ticketed for defying an order to close their doors while another 22 abided by the city’s deadline to shut down.

To date, the city has issued 44 tickets, including 21 to three separate shops that did not participate in the city's new regulation scheme.

Andreea Toma, the city’s chief licensing inspector, said the city will continue enforcement this week and expects to issue more $250 tickets to pot shops that refused to shut their doors last Friday. Toma said additional tickets will be issued to those shops targeted over the weekend.

“The risk of staying open, outside of regulations, is that they can get the fines on a daily basis,” said Toma, noting none of the inspections of the pot shops required the assistance of the Vancouver Police Department. “At the same time, we are also looking at prosecutions and injunctions. These are parallel streams.”

The city imposed a deadline of April 29 for all marijuana shops to close that didn’t fall into a permitted zone or were too close to a school or community centre. The city made the order six months ago.

The B.C. Pain Society on Commercial Drive was one of the 44 pot shops to receive a $250 ticket for operating a business without a licence.

The dispensary opened more than two years ago, one block from Stratford Hall private school and across the street from the B.C. Compassion Club, which remains open because it won a recent Board of Variance appeal.

Chuck Varabioff, owner of the B.C. Pain Society, said he will dispute his ticket within the 15 allowable days and set a court date. Varabioff has already requested a judicial review of an earlier Board of Variance decision to reject his appeal to pursue a business licence.

“I feel it was pre-determined – I wasn’t given enough time to present my case, I wasn’t allowed to comment or respond to the complaints against me from [Stratford Hall],” he said of the board’s decision, noting he has 10 full-time staff and 15,000 customers, many of whom are on a low income and some have cancer.

When told that his shop was one of more than 20 given fines, and that more shops would be ticketed this week, Varabioff said he’s confident most, if not all, of the shops will dispute the tickets.

“What a waste of city resources – everybody’s going to want their day in court,” he said. “So how much money is the city willing to spend on people disputing bylaw tickets?”

Varabioff, however, said he wanted to be clear his frustration is directed at the Board of Variance, not the city. Though his Commercial Drive operation is in violation of the city’s bylaw, he acknowledged he received a development permit for a pot shop at 2849 East Broadway and is close to getting a business licence.

“Even though I’m super happy with that, I want my main store [on Commercial Drive] to remain open also,” Varabioff said.

The Green Room dispensary on Seymour Street voluntarily closed its doors Friday. It, too, has appealed to the Board of Variance but won’t get to present its case until September. It’s located between Helmcken and Nelson, in the same block as a community centre.

Jon Yoshida, a part-time employee at the Green Room, told the Courier Monday that he remained in the store to collect signatures on a petition that will make part of the dispensary’s evidence at the board hearing.

“There was a city worker that actually came by Saturday morning to make sure that we were shut down, and if not, to fine us,” Yoshida said. “She looked a little concerned that our door was open and I was here. But we have no product on site, we have no money in our till – everything’s gone, basically.”


Note: This story has been updated since first posted. The article originally stated the city issued tickets to 44 pot shops over the weekend. In fact, the city issued 23 and earlier issued 21 tickets to three separate dispensaries that did not participate in the city's new regulation scheme. So, to date, the city issued a total of 44 tickets.