Sarah Leamon: Vancouver marijuana dispensary regulations are a good start

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      Vancouver has become the first city in Canada to regulate the marijuana industry.

      After holding four public information sessions, in which hundreds of people voiced up to speak their opinions, city council held a vote. The proposal passed, with eight councillors voting in favour and only three in opposition. City manager Penny Ballem has recognized that Vancouver is breaking new ground, describing this new step forward as “unprecedented in the country”. When it comes to the marijuana industry, Vancouver appears to be on the cutting edge.

      The city’s decision to regulate marijuana also comes hot off the heels of the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Smith. This decision found that the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations prohibiting the consumption of medical marijuana in any form other than dried marijuana were unconstitutional.

      Prior to the Smith decision, a medical marijuana patient found in the possession of marijuana in any other form than dried could be prosecuted under the Criminal Code. Practically speaking, this meant that a patient carrying a lip balm in their pocket containing marijuana derivatives could be charged with possession, while a patient carrying a large bag of dried marijuana would be protected under the law. It also meant that patients were forced to smoke their marijuana and were prohibited from using safer, more effective methods of consumption, like vaporization. The Supreme Court of Canada held that this distinction was in violation of section 7 of the Charter, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.

      So, the future looks bright for Canadian marijuana users. But not so fast...

      The controversy runs deep.

      Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is not happy with these developments. Health Minister Rona Ambrose went on record as saying that she was “outraged” by the court’s decision in Smith. In April, the federal government sent letters to Vancouver’s council, police services, and health authorities outlining its concerns with Vancouver’s proposal to regulate dispensaries. Ambrose co-signed a letter with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney reminding city council and police that the storefront sale of marijuana is still illegal in Canada. In the letter, she stated her deep concern about the plans and warned against the dangers of legitimizing and normalizing the use and sale of marijuana, which she feels will only serve to increase drug use and addiction in this country.

      Since the regulations have been passed, Ambrose has continued on, saying that marijuana storefronts “form part of Justin Trudeau’s plan to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity”. She juxtaposes this with the Conservative government’s anti-marijuana agenda, arguing that keeping marijuana illegal is the only way to protect families. Ambrose’s comments are deeply political in nature. She appears to be making them not necessarily to protect the health and safety of Canadians, but to further her own parties’ political agenda. In my view, this diminishes the authenticity of her concerns.

      However, criticisms of the new bylaws are not limited to the federal government. Supporters of the marijuana industry are also concerned. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, while applauding the city’s intentions in passing these laws, warns that they will be too restrictive in practice. They are particularly concerned with the prohibition on marijuana edibles, which means that candies, cookies, and brownies will be banned from storefront shops. Others feel that the $30,000 annual licensing fee for for-profit stores, which is the highest costing permit imposed by the city to date, will make it impossible for many locations to keep their doors open.

      But, whatever your position on this issue is, the fact remains, marijuana-related businesses are booming. Over the last two years, the number of businesses related to the sale and use of marijuana has grown by over 100 percent and prior to last week, the city had no ability to regulate how or where those businesses operate.

      The new guidelines will empower the city to deal with the growth of marijuana-related business. They establish geographic restrictions with respect to where marijuana-related businesses can legally operate and require operators to sign a good neighbour agreement. Although they impose hefty licensing fees, they also allow an exception for non-profit compassion clubs. At the very least, the city’s new guidelines will help provide a great deal of clarity. They will help to establish community standards. And although they may not be perfect for now, they will surely change and evolve over time.

      I look forward to seeing what the future holds.



      a failure, too little much red tape and bad policy

      Jun 29, 2015 at 3:43pm

      like usual, city staff and council were not listening to speakers.
      how many times did people point out that it's a really bad idea to ban edibles?
      or that the 300m distance between shops and the other limitations on locations is utter nonsense?

      treat the dispensaries like coffee shops, pharmacies or liquor stores. charging $30,000 per year as a fee is outrageous. this regulation is a huge step backwards. the existing shops should all have been grandfathered and should have been able to keep operating with the the same services. will the city now play favourites and close the shops of the less connected?

      medical marijuana patients will be worse off now with the new regulations. it's a real shame.

      Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada

      Jun 29, 2015 at 4:04pm

      The City of Vancouver has now taken a very problematic position. There is discussion of a class action suit against the city for the $30,000 fee, there is a possible challenge to this bylaw under provisions of the Vancouver Charter, it remains an open question if the RCMP will be called in to uphold the federal criminal statures pertaining to the illegal selling and advertising of marijuana, it remains to be seen if suits are launched against individuals aiding and abetting or profiting from criminal activity, and it remains to be seen if the Civil Forfeiture Laws of BC could see the $30,000 fee seized upon receipt. We have found at least 25 possible legal challenges that could be brought forward over this new by-law. It now becomes not a guestion of "if" but more a question of when and who. Quackery is a favorite - fraudelent medicine is a risk to public safety - might do well to pick up a copy of The Province. Charlie Smith is badly out of touch with modern science.

      Reasonable Head

      Jun 30, 2015 at 12:02am

      The results are an insult to the intelligence of the drug culture, which is too smart to believe in law, which is nothing more than a farce backed by violence. "Act as our stage play script directs or we will beat on you!!!" Nothing but a bunch of vicious bullies.

      People who can't grow/sell marijuana are obviously slaves. Good thing lawyers don't learn what "slavery" means in law school. It means being subject to uncertain services, i.e. one day you can't smoke pot, one day you can. Freedom is constant and eternal; slavery is doing the will of another.

      Scott B.

      Jun 30, 2015 at 8:28am

      You may not like a law (I don't like speed limits for example) but I am bound by that law until our system of justice and political will change it. The City of Vancouver (now its own little fiefdom of Mayor Moonbeam) now gets to pick and choose what laws to uphold and which to ignore? Really. How is that upholding the principals civilized society. Dispensaries are illegal and support organized crime and the distribution of sub-standard, contaminated marijuana. They lie to customers about the source of their product, write phoney, worthless prescriptions to unsuspecting patients and charge for the privilege of defrauding them. There are 25 federally regulated licensed producers in Canada which produce some of the worlds best product. They are accessible through a physicians prescription, they are reliable, have a clean and measurable product. They are less expensive per gram than dispensaries (the cost is tax deductible, people on financial assistance get massive discounts and veterans get the marijuana for free). What do we need criminal organizations in store fronts for? The cities bad decision to allow these criminals to move into store fronts is based on a premise that patients have no access. This is total lie. It is false and it is a dangerous and foolish policy.

      @Scott B.

      Jun 30, 2015 at 7:07pm

      People have this thing called 'freedom of contract.' A contract to supply marihuana is a private matter between a grownup and his chosen supplier. While monopolistic practices are very profitable for some, they are illegal---the whole precocious six year old trick of saying "it's not a monopoly, we've licensed seventeen corporations owned by rich men!!" is silly. true, it is probably better described as oligopoly, but even that should be considered illegal.

      Your concerns about contaminants are about as reasonable as being concerned about the untested produce at farmer's markets.

      As for the MMPR being accessible, bullshit bullshit bullshit. Doctors won't sign, and the LPs don't have enough aggregate capacity to serve all of the medical users in Canada. People do not get "massive discounts." And if they prefer to spend the same amount of money at a local small business, that is their right.

      The only criminals here are the prohibitionists, oligopolists and monopolists.