City Hall was standing room only on Wednesday night (June 10) as medical marijuana supporters and opponents crammed into council chambers for a public hearing to regulate the pot business in Vancouver.
The city is considering regulations to licence marijuana dispensaries, which would require them to be 300 metres from any community centres or schools, as well as that same distance apart from each other.
The public hearing began with a presentation from city manager Dr. Penny Ballem, who said the Vancouver has seen a sharp increase in dispensaries this year, up from 60 in January to 94 in June.
She admits that prohibition only makes it easier for organized crime to exploit the industry.
Ballem, who has a health background, presented a “multi-pronged objective" focusing on youth, serious crime, health, and safety, as well as the impact on the economy.
“The city can’t regulate a product, but we can regulate a business,” Ballem said.
Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer with VCH touched on the controversial topic of edible marijuana products, over the fact that dispensaries don’t have permits to sell baked goods and haven’t been visited by a food inspector. VCH wants to see sale of the product, as an edible, banned in the city.
“Child consumption from children under the age of five between 2006 to 2013 has risen 610 percent in [the United] States that have legalized marijuana,” Daly said.
Concerned about how the effect of eating cannabis varies from person to person, Daly pointed to the night of April 20, 2015, when St. Paul’s Hospital saw 63 patients come through the emergency ward after ingesting marijuana—36 whom ate it and 13 whom smoked it.
One speaker from the public specifically slammed the decision to ban edible cannabis, saying she valued her lungs and health while she suffers from severe back pain.
“You would have to smoke three to four times [the usual amount] to get the same effect” she said. “When you want to get to sleep, does an eight-hour cough medicine sound better than one that lasts for one to three hours?”
She was also concerned that the $30,000 fee for businesses is too high, and worried that the costs will be passed on to patients who have high medical bills already.
Councillor Geoff Meggs said he hasn’t heard anything to convince him that edible marijuana is safe while Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer who specializes in cannabis representing local dispensaries, retorted that people’s reaction to all forms of medicine can vary.
"I urge the council to adopt the approach generally used in other jurisdictions such as Colorado and Washington,” Tousaw said. "That approach is to reasonably regulate, not prohibit, these products. We know that prohibition causes harm and that reasonable regulation promoted public health. The proposal to ban edible products will not cover the proposed goals—in fact it is likely to cause the opposite results.”
Dana Larsen, founder of the Sensible B.C. reform initiative, also spoke to mayor and council, supporting the proposed regulations but admitted that both of his dispensaries would have to close or move, despite being far apart, located in the Downtown Eastside and the West End.
Under the new regulation, the dispensary on Main and Hastings will remain open while nearby shops on Granville, Pender, and elsewhere in the Downtown Eastside will shut down.
The $30,000 in fees per dispensary would total $2,820,000 from the 94 shops currently in the city (the maximum council would allow). Ballem said the fees would support regulation, but told council she would like to see a portion of that money go to education, specifically to teens.
VCH recommended the sale of marijuana would be limited to people 19 and over, citing data that found marijuana affects brain development through adolescence into the early 20s, from higher functions, memory, decision making, learning ability, and driving.
“You would be the first level of government in Canada to acknowledge that people don’t consider marijuana more harmful than alcohol or tobacco and that prohibition doesn’t work,” Ballem said. “We need to strictly regulate this business."
Over 150 registered to speak during the public hearing and not all were heard. Council meets again tonight (June 11) at 6 p.m. for a second round.