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Legal pot shop licence fees too pricey, Vancouver councillor says

A bag of marijuana is held up at a medical marijuana dispensary in Vancouver.
A bag of marijuana is held up at a medical marijuana dispensary in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A Vancouver city councillor is calling for legal cannabis retail licence fees in the city to be slashed.

Independent Coun. Rebecca Bligh says the current annual fee that cannabis retailers pay, $33,958, is incentivizing illegal pot shops and is out of scale with other similar businesses in the city.

In a motion headed to council next week, Bligh is calling on staff to review the current fee structure and bring it in line with other businesses.

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The current maximum fee for a liquor store in the city is $3,219, while a casino or a horse racing track pays $13,464. The entire Pacific National Exhibition pays an annual licence fee of $18,156 Bligh said.

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It’s time to recognize that that fee is exorbitantly high, it’s prohibitive to small business entering the market,” Bligh said.

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“And it is there’s just a lack of equity and in fairness, right across the board when it comes to expecting businesses to be able to to cover that cost on an annual basis.”

Bligh says Vancouver’s fee structure is also out of step with other B.C. municipalities.

Victoria charges an annual fee of $5,000 with a one-time rezoning fee of $7,500, while Kelowna charges an annual fee of $9,645 and a one-time $9,495 rezoning fee.

City staff say the bulk of the fees go to reviewing licences, with the remainder dedicated to enforcement, policy development and customer and operations support, according to Bligh.

Enforcement is meant to be a provincial responsibility, Bligh says, while the licence review costs could be met with a higher Victoria or Kelowna-style one-time fee at application.

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“A growing concern … is that we are creating a regulatory environment that sort of motivates illegal shops to perpetuate in Vancouver,” Bligh says.

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“So you’ve got legitimate businesses who are trying to open up their shops and they are competing with illegal businesses a few blocks away and there doesn’t seem to be any enforcement that shutting down those illegal businesses.”

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Along with directing city staff to come up with a new fee structure for cannabis shops, Bligh’s motion would also call on the province to boost enforcement on those illegal shops in the city.

Council is set to debate the motion on Tuesday.

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