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Vancouver becomes first in Canada to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries

Vote flies in the face of federal government, which says it’s ‘disappointed’ by decision to allow dispensaries to pay licensing fee


 
Pawel Dwulit/CP

Pawel Dwulit/CP

VANCOUVER – Vancouver has become the first city in Canada to regulate illegal marijuana dispensaries, a move that has “deeply disappointed” the federal government but was declared a common-sense approach by the mayor.

“We’re faced with a tough situation, a complicated situation,” Gregor Robertson said Wednesday after councillors voted 8-3 to impose new regulations.

“We have this proliferation of dispensaries that must be dealt with,” he said.

The city has blamed Ottawa’s restrictive medical marijuana laws for the rise of pot dispensaries — to 94 from fewer than 20 just three years ago.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose had sent strongly worded letters to the city and police warning against the plan. On Wednesday, she said she was disappointed with the decision to regulate an illegal industry.

“Marijuana is neither an approved drug nor medicine in Canada and Health Canada does not endorse its use,” Ambrose said in a statement.

“Storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and under this Conservative government will remain illegal. We expect the police to enforce the law.”

The new rules mean dispensaries must pay a $30,000 licensing fee, be located at least 300 metres away from schools, community centres and each other, and some shops will be banned from certain areas.

But the city also voted to create a two-tiered licensing system, allowing compassion clubs to pay a fee of just $1,000.

To qualify as a compassion club, a dispensary must be non-profit, serve members and provide other health services such as massage therapy or acupuncture, and be a member of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.

Coun. Kerry Jang said the clubs provide other services such as nutritional and psychological counselling and help people to transition from marijuana to other medicine if possible.

“That’s what we should be encouraging,” he said. “Like any kind of drug, you want to get off it eventually. That’s the approach we took.”

Don Briere, owner of Vancouver’s largest marijuana chain Weeds, praised the city for its “courage” in approving regulations, but called the two-tiered system “discrimination.”

Briere said it’s unfair that his businesses must pay $29,000 more when they also serve medical pot patients. He said he planned to talk to a lawyer and had heard other owners were doing the same.

“If there’s a class-action lawsuit, I obviously have to join,” he said. “It’s already being talked about.”

Jamie Shaw with Vancouver’s oldest dispensary, B.C. Compassion Club Society, called the new regulations a “historic move.”

“It’s actually great that they’re encouraging some dispensaries to be a little bit more patient focused and patient centred while still not actually outlawing more recreational-minded ones,” she said.

Coun. Geoff Meggs told council that medical marijuana was not an issue that the city wanted to take up, but one it was forced to handle because of Ottawa’s “backwards” policies.

“Wake up. You are completely out of touch with the realities on the ground,” Meggs said in a message aimed at the federal government.

Council’s decision came after four days of public hearings where many of the speakers complained about a proposed ban on edible products such as brownies and cookies.

The city held firm on a ban, arguing that the treats appeal to children, it is difficult to control their contents and patients can buy marijuana oil to make their own edibles.

Dispensaries now have 60 days to apply for a licence.

If several stores are located in a cluster, they must face a review that would tally demerit points based on factors including the number of complaints and police incidents. Stores that are not compassion clubs automatically receive 10 demerit points.

Many dispensaries will be forced to move, including those located in the Downtown Eastside and the Granville Street entertainment district.

Krystian Wetulani of Vancity Weed said his Granville Street store serves many low-income patients who can’t afford to travel far for their medicine.

“You have a rapport with patients and they get comfortable with you, and now that’s going to be taken away,” he said.

Vancouver Police Const. Brian Montague said the new regulations will not change the force’s approach to pot shops, which are only made a priority if there are public safety concerns.

The City of Victoria is also considering bylaws for dispensaries.


 

Vancouver becomes first in Canada to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries

  1. Smart Approaches to Marijuana is a national organization made up of prominent Canadian medical
    researchers, legal professionals and members of academia and we strongly oppose the move by the Mayor and Council of Vancouver to step into national drug policy issues. Canada is partners with 190 other countries in working to decrease the use of illicit drugs, including the use of marijuana. The reason that Canada has the highest rate of marijuana by youth in the industrialized world is very much due to the very heavily funded American pot lobby interest that is operating in Canada and meddling in our political arena. It is also the direct result of the Mayor and Council of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department who are acting as roque entities and refusing to abide by Canada’s criminal statures.
    Nova Scotia has no dispensaries, all shut down and RCMP send the illegal operators packing. Small town BC – Parksville achieved the same results and warned the landlord to not rerent to the same illegal entities or it remained to be seen if they would be charged for profiting from crime. BC Hydro has been sent a letter and it remains an open question if by supplying power they are aiding and abetting. It remains an open question if the Mayor and Council can also be charged with the similiar crimes. The Attorney General in California threatened this very action in 23 towns looking at breaking federal laws by licensing dispensaries and each council voted down the motion.
    25 legal reasons now why the taxpayer in Vancouver is at the end of the day going to be paying big time for this very stupid move.

  2. Advertising of marijuana is against the law in Canada, with a penalty of $5 million dollars and or a 2 year plus jail sentence. The Coastal Jazz Festival in Vancouver recently had to recyle their seasonal program after it was discovered they were running four pot ads – one from Marc Emery another from Weeds – a franchise dispensary with 14+ illegal dispensaries advertising all over the place. The operator Don Brierer even has a t.v. ad running on the JOY TV network channel. The $5 million dollar question – Do storefronts constitute advertising ? If they are in fact advertising then no dispensaries and we go back to business as normal. As one comment posted on a news story recently said – Breaking the law is the new norm in Vancouver and one has to wonder if this whole battle is not over pot but with all the pot flag waving and aggression something rather more sinister and a threat to Canadian democracy.

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