There is a lot of chatter happening at City Hall this month about medicinal-marijuana dispensaries. A public hearing that began June 10 reconvenes on Monday (June 22), when speaker number 173 will take the microphone at a meeting beginning at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada (SAM Canada) has emerged as a vocal opponent to the city’s proposed regulatory framework for the over-the-counter sale of cannabis. Pamela McColl, a Vancouver-based member of the national group’s advisory council, told the Straight her organization is more than just talk.
“We have a lot of lawyers looking at this whole thing,” McColl said.
The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has opened a file in response to McColl lodging a grievance regarding the Vancouver Police Department failing to enforce federal drug laws.
According to emails supplied to the Straight, deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods forwarded McColl’s concerns to Mayor Gregor Robertson on June 12 in his capacity as chair of the police board. That body now has until July 10 to respond. The board’s options range from dismissing the complaint to launching a formal investigation.
McColl told the Straight that SAM Canada is also in the early stages of mounting a legal challenge alleging that business licences the city grants to dispensaries violate certain sections of the Vancouver Charter, including one that states the mayor shall “be vigilant and active at all times in causing the law of the government of the city to be duly enforced and obeyed”.
In addition, SAM Canada is reviewing legal options at the provincial and federal levels of government.
In a June 11 email to McColl, the B.C. Ministry of Justice’s policing and security branch confirmed it had received a “request for provincial involvement regarding operational policing decisions in Vancouver” sent to Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton. The email stated: “Police agencies conduct individual investigations at arm’s length from government, and we cannot interfere with or direct police in particular investigations.”
McColl said SAM is also supplying information to the federal Ministry of Health for any court challenge that could originate within that office (which strongly opposes the city’s plan to regulate marijuana sales).
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang (who has been acting as spokesperson for the dispensaries file) said he couldn’t comment while the matter is before an ongoing public hearing. A spokesperson for the city told the Straight Vancouver’s legal department has reviewed the proposed regulations and continues to work with council and staff.
In a telephone interview, Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer who specializes in cannabis law, told the Straight it’s his opinion SAM Canada’s actions are more about posturing and unlikely to result in any case going to court.
On the VPD complaint, Tousaw argued that a police department has the authority to set its own priorities. On a potential violation of the law, he noted that part of the city’s plan includes amending existing bylaws.
“If they [the city] want to issue licences for businesses that are undoubtedly doing business in the city, there is nothing illegal about that,” Tousaw said.
McColl noted there are a number of ongoing lawsuits targeting U.S. states that have legalized recreational marijuana. She warned Vancouver is likely in store for the same sorts of court challenges.