Vancouver’s many medicinal-marijuana dispensaries don’t have much to worry about from potential changes at city hall. The consensus among candidates vying for the mayor’s chair and council seats is that the storefronts can stay, as long as they behave themselves.
Depending on who is elected on November 15, that might involve playing by new bylaws, but nobody is proposing anything substantially different from unwritten rules already enforced by the Vancouver Police Department.
Mayor Gregor Robertson’s main challenger, the Non-Partisan Association’s Kirk LaPointe, said he takes no moral position on the issue of medicinal marijuana.
“It’s really just about bylaw enforcement and licensing,” LaPointe said in a telephone interview. “We would make sure that there is a good licensing process to determine how dispensaries ought to be overseen by the city, and set what are their conditions.”
LaPointe told the Straight that, if elected, the NPA would introduce a class of business licence specifically for dispensaries. He argued that under Vision Vancouver, an entire industry has grown outside of any real regulatory framework.
“That’s where the neighbourhoods are concerned,” LaPointe added. “They don’t understand how they’ve all popped up, why they’re there, what they’re doing, and what the city should be doing about them.”
As of October 20, there were 46 medicinal-marijuana dispensaries op-erating in Vancouver, according to statistics supplied by the city. The storefronts are illegal under federal law but the VPD has repeatedly said they are not a priority for police action.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang maintained that the absence of a business-licence category for dispensaries doesn’t mean they aren’t regulated and monitored.
He noted that in recent months the VPD has conducted enforcement measures against three marijuana shops. “Dispensaries that are dealing to children, dealing inappropriately, or dealing out the back door and things like that, we will crack down on them,” he said.
COPE mayoral candidate Meena Wong described a position similar to that of the NPA. She said she supports the use of marijuana for medical purposes but argued that dispensaries require a greater degree of regulation than they currently receive under Vision.
“Like alcohol and cigarettes,” she offered. “I’m sure that people would like to have clear rules and outlines so that they know what is going on.”
Two independent mayoral candidates criticized Vision for the same reasons.
Colin Shandler noted that today’s B.C. bud is significantly more potent than marijuana from the 1970s and 1980s. He said the drug therefore does need to be monitored in order to ensure standards for things like safety and cleanliness.
“This is happening whether the average citizen likes it or not,” Shandler said. “We need to take it out from this legal grey and bring it into the light.”
He described the spread of marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver as an opportunity for the city to collect tax revenue from a booming industry.
Bob Kasting went one step further, suggesting that Vancouver look at legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“If you allow it to be sold as a regulated item like alcohol or tobacco or something, that’s a fairly sensible way to approach it,” he said.
The Vancouver Greens also favour legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Their party isn’t running a candidate for mayor, but Coun. Adrianne Carr told the Straight she wants to work with whoever is elected in November to establish a clear set of rules for how marijuana dispensaries should open and operate.
Carr noted that during the years that dispensaries have proliferated in and around Vancouver, she’s never seen a report on the issue come before council.
“We’re in real grey water here right now, and rules need to be established,” Carr said. “I think we need to have a very honest discussion at the council table about the role of the city.”