Vancouver’s explosion of marijuana dispensaries might look like a cash grab for drug dealers. But there are storefronts that will refuse to sell to certain customers even if they have a note from a doctor prescribing the drug.
At Karuna Health Foundation’s new location at 3636 West 4th Avenue, the president recounted one of his employees doing just that, despite the upset client’s loud protests.
The would-be customer was of age and had the right paperwork. But when staff asked for more information, the young man reported that he was prone to seizures.
“So we wouldn’t sell them the sativa strain they requested,” the president said. “Sativas are a little bit higher in CBN [cannabinol], which causes anxiety. It’s a little bit more of what we would call a ‘heady’ high. So we denied him.”
Another dispensary did sell that man marijuana, the president said; he heard later that a seizure was the result.
He suggested that some health-care professionals still have a lot to learn about marijuana’s medicinal applications. Karuna staff are trained to ask customers for a medical history before they permit them to walk out the door with a bag of drugs that, just like many other medications, can have adverse side effects.
“There are people who have conditions for which they should not be smoking marijuana,” the president said. “So there have been instances where we have denied people.”
He’s one of a number of Vancouver dispensary operators who have told the Straight they hope to set themselves apart from shops taking advantage of the city’s laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana to sell pot for recreational purposes.
On June 24, Vancouver city council enacted a regulatory framework for dispensaries. Owners have until August 24 to file an initial application for one of the city’s new marijuana-related development permits. In the meantime, many operators have started renovations aimed at ensuring they comply with the city’s long list of rules.
At the Village Café + Dispensary at 1540 West 2nd Avenue, a bare-concrete motif gives the space the look of a new-age health-food store. There’s even a selection of locally sourced, gluten-free baked goods sold alongside organic smoothies made to order.
Co-owner and operator Andrea Dobbs told the Straight it’s all part of a holistic approach to health. She emphasized that although she sells cannabis to people who need it, her ultimate goal is to end a patient’s reliance on medicinal marijuana.
“If you want to find true health and wellness, you shouldn’t have to take anything,” Dobbs explained. “It’s a whole message around tying in your diet and other lifestyle changes that you have to adopt to find yourself in a place of balance.”
Dobbs’s partner, Jeremy, similarly said that when cannabis is deemed a suitable treatment, the default course of action should not be to give a person the strongest pot around.
“A lot of people who are looking at cannabis for medicine do not want to be high,” Jeremy said. To that end, he continued, the Village Dispensary offers a variety of strains with a relatively low THC content and a higher concentration of cannabidiol (CBD).
While the THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, content of bud sold on the streets of Vancouver often exceeds 20 percent, Jeremy said the Village Dispensary sells strains with as little as eight percent THC.
“Some medicinal strains are the ones where CBD and THC are in balance,” Jeremy explained. “We are finding professionals coming through here with just that requirement: they are looking for the benefits that will let them stay focused.”
Jamie Shaw is president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. She told the Straight that her organization is trying to standardize industry operations via a certification program that was developed with researchers from the University of British Columbia.
“We’re holding certain standards and ensuring that dispensaries are following them,” Shaw said in a telephone interview. “We have a certification program with 170 tests for compliance.”
She estimated that about half of Vancouver’s more than 90 dispensaries have passed or expressed an interest in that assessment process.