B.C.’s health minister has added his support to Vancouver’s plan to regulate the over-the-counter sale of marijuana.
“I understand why Vancouver has done what they have done, because of the vacuum created by the federal government,” Terry Lake said, quoted in the Globe and Mail.
“I think they are operating in the interests of their citizens and at least putting some regulatory framework in their city and, as our public health officers have said, they think they are doing it for the right reasons,” he told reporters in Victoria on April 29. “And until Ottawa changes the regulatory environment, cities and municipalities are left to do that.”
For years, Vancouver marijuana dispensaries have operated in violation of federal law. On April 28, Vancouver city council received a report from staff that laid out a legal framework for marijuana-related businesses. The proposed rules consist of a new category of business licence, revised bylaws, and zoning amendments all specifically designed for the sale of marijuana. The document is now on its way to a public hearing.
Lake’s comments echo earlier remarks made by the province’s senior public health official, Dr. Perry Kendall.
“I think it fits in with the public health agenda in which we suggest that, on the evidence, the best way to address a psychoactive substance like cannabis is through regulation, controlled outlets, pricing and taxation,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
And in an interview with CBC News: “I think it is a sensible decision to enact access, to move it away from schools, to be sure you don't have more than one dispensary within 300 yards of another dispensary and to make sure that they are offering a product without pushing the recreational area and they are only selling it to adults,” Kendall said.
Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health (which operates 13 hospitals in B.C.), similarly described Vancouver’s plan as “very sensible”.
“How can we reduce the harms associated with marijuana use? The best way to do that is to apply a regulatory approach, which is exactly what the city is proposing,” she said in an interview with the Sun.
The Vancouver Police Department has tried to take a more neutral position.
“The city may be looking at licencing and permits and that sort of thing, but our priorities haven’t changed,” Const. Brian Montague recently told the Straight. “Our priority continues to be violent drug offenders in our city. And while these illegal marijuana stores are a low priority, they can become a priority if public safety becomes an issue. That has been our stance all along and it will continue to be.”
At 12th and Cambie, all three parties that comprise city council have expressed support for the plan. The decision to put the matter to a public hearing passed by a vote of nine to one. (The only councillor to oppose the motion was the NPA’s Elizabeth Ball, who said she could not legitimize an industry that operates in violation of federal law.)
Support for the new rules at the civic and provincial levels has been countered by opposition from the federal Conservative government.
An April 28 letter signed by Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney warns Vancouver city council it should cease pursuing its plan to regulate marijuana dispensaries. It also states the VPD is expected to enforce the law as it exists today.
“Storefront sales of marijuana are illegal and under our government, will remain illegal,” the letter reads. “Like the vast majority of Canadians, the Government expects that police will enforce the laws of Canada as written.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors such as Vision’s Kerry Jang have responded to Ottawa’s warnings by arguing the city is moving to address regulatory gaps Ottawa has left unattended.
“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 told the Straight. “When people can’t get their medicine, they have to go elsewhere. They created this market.”