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Cannabis crackdown became brief cash cow for Victoria's bylaw department
Of the $157,000 in bylaw infractions issued last year, Victoria has collected far less than half of the money owed. (CTV Vancouver Island)
Many cannabis-friendly British Columbians might consider the period from 2015 until federal legalization in 2017 as the glory days.
In Victoria, illegal dispensaries dotted the landscape in such abundance that at one point they far outnumbered Starbucks locations in a coffee-frenzied city.
The unsanctioned outposts existed in a legal grey area shrouded in confusion and commercial impunity.
The market for soon-to-be legal cannabis was so lucrative it spawned dozens of storefront dispensaries. But behind the scenes the City of Victoria’s tiny bylaw department was also on the brink of a boom.
According to financial records, a department which issued infractions totalling a measly $1,900 in 2015 was about to see a 700 per cent jump in revenues.
On the back of fresh regulations which governed cannabis dispensaries in Victoria, the capital city went from passively watching the illegal storefront businesses boom to being a player in controling how they operated.
Rules included how close dispensaries could be to each other, their proximity to schools and the bannng of pot consumption at certain sites.
Adopted in September of 2016, the Zoning Regulation Bylaw immidiately started making an impact. The total dollar figure of bylaw infractions issued jumped right away.
In 2015, only $1,900 in tickets were handed down, followed by $29,000 in 2016.
“The increase is directly related to enforcement of cannabis businesses operating without their proper municipal licensing in place,” said city spokesperson Bill Eisenhauer.
“These fines can total more than $1,000 a day for operating without a business licence.”
The upward trend was just beginning. City records show so many illegal dispensaries were operating outside the confines of the civic bylaw that in 2018 fines for infractions had ballooned to $157,000, a 726 per cent jump from 2015.
If issuing thousands of dollars in new infractions was the first step, collecting them became the real challenge.
“Bylaw prosecutions for some of the fines have been successful, others are proceeding through the courts,” Eisenhauer told CTV News.
Terp City, a now closed cannabis lounge on Douglas street still owes the city $25,000 in unpaid fines. Victoria confirms its embroiled in legal action to collect.
Of the $157,000 in bylaw infractions issued last year, Victoria has collected far less than half of the money owed.
If new storefronts popping up in Victoria represented a bump in bylaw cash, they won’t, at least for now, result in new roads or playgrounds.
The city says all bylaw fines collected are funneled directly back into bylaw enforcement.
If federal legalization has ended the green glory days when dispensaries operated unfettered in Victoria, so ended the brief bylaw boon.
Post-legalization regulations have seen Victoria’s pot shop-speckled map shrink. Only a handful of provincially approved storefronts can sell cannabis in the capital region and Starbucks locations once again far outnumber dispensaries.
Statistics show in July 2019 Victoria’s bylaw fines had dropped dramatically with only $20,000 in fines passed on to the public.