Health Canada is not happy about Vancouver’s plan to regulate marijuana shops and has wasted no time letting city hall know it.
Barely 24 hours after Vancouver’s municipal government revealed a proposed legal framework for cannabis dispensaries, the country’s minister of health has written to Mayor Gregor Robertson to express her displeasure.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that the City of Vancouver intends to discuss a proposal to regulate illegal drug dispensaries at an upcoming Council meeting,” reads the letter signed by Rona Ambrose.
It continues: “Legitimizing and normalizing the use and sale of marijuana can have only one effect: increasing marijuana use and addiction.”
The letter states that Ottawa has implemented federal laws that govern access to medicinal marijuana, and emphasizes those rules do not permit the sale of recreational marijuana via storefront dispensaries.
“While Canadian courts have required the government to allow access to marijuana when authorized by a physician, the law is clear that this must be done in a controlled fashion to protect public health and safety,” it reads. “In response to the courts, the government implemented the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR) in June 2013, with the aim of treating dried marijuana as much as possible like other narcotics used for medical purposes.
“These Regulations are clear and do not provide municipalities with the authority to legitimize the commercial sale of marijuana, which remains an illegal substance. Storefronts and dispensaries do not operate with a ‘grey zone’, and the law is clear: they are illegal.”
The rules Vancouver has proposed are scheduled to go before city council on April 28, after which point they will proceed to a public hearing before a final vote on their adoption.
For years, Vancouver marijuana dispensaries have operated in violation of federal law. The Vancouver Police Department has long maintained that while the sale of marijuana is illegal, it does not have the resources to shut down every dispensary in the city, nor does it consider the shops a policing priority.
If and when council adopts the framework—which consists of a new category of business licence, revised bylaws, and zoning amendments all specifically designed for the sale of marijuana—the rules will apply to the more than 80 dispensaries that presently operate illegally.
Interviewed about the proposal yesterday (April 22), Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang argued the city has been forced to implement its own rules in response to a problem created by Ottawa.
“Hopefully what the federal government will see is what we have said all along: that their current regulations around medical marijuana are unworkable and have actually led to the growth of the dispensary industry,” Jang said. “When people can’t get their medicine, they have to go elsewhere. They created this market.”