Pubdate: Thu, 26 Jun 2014
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2014 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Tristin Hopper
Page: A1


Vancouver dispensaries test limits of Canada's pot laws

We do have a priority-based approach to policing here in

A woman stands outside Vancouver's Canna Clinic, offering passersby
free in-house medical consultations. One of Vancouver's 30-plus
marijuana dispensaries, many of which have opened in only the last 12
months, Canna Clinic sells pot-infused ketchup, olive oil and
brownies, as well as pre-rolled blunts and two dozen strains of pure
B.C. Bud.

The only catch is that prospective buyers have to present photo I.D.,
sign a form pledging not to share, and receive a diagnosis from an
onsite naturopath confirming they have any ailment ranging from cancer
to ADHD to sleep disorders.

"I'm just in a lot of pain, you know," one man, who entered after
being assured by staff that the certification process would only take
10 minutes, joked to the assembled patients as he lined up for
registration forms.

According to Health Canada, the only legal way to get marijuana is to
get a prescription from a doctor or nurse practitioner, and choose
from one of 13 government-licensed producers for carefully regulated
doses via Canada Post.

But the rest of Canada is not Vancouver, where a legal grey area is
ushering in an unprecedented boom in storefront medical marijuana
dispensaries and there are now almost as many dispensaries as
McDonald's. Vancouverites can now buy medical pot out of vending
machines, drink medical pot smoothies, take in a live concert over a
medical cannabis vaporizer and buy virtually unlimited quantities of
medical weed for increasingly mild medical ailments.

But as the West Coast metropolis tests the most extreme limits of what
constitutes medical marijuana, however, the city's marijuana old guard
worries it may be going too far.

On Monday, Vancouverites witnessed the rare phenomenon of a pot
dispensary being raided by police. At 10 a.m., officers with the
Vancouver Police Drug Squad entered Weeds Glass and Gifts on Kingsway
for what they called "an active drug investigation."

"Police felt the business was operating in an unsafe manner," read a
Monday statement, adding "police will be recommending charges."

It was the first police raid against a Vancouver dispensary in months,
and the most public shakeup of what, until then, had been a meteoric
growth in new retail shops selling medical cannabis.

As recently as the 2010 Olympics, Vancouver only counted a handful of
subdued clinical-looking marijuana dispensaries selling pot to
carefully screened lists of patients who had proven a serious need to
use the drug for pain relief.

Now, thanks largely to the laissez-faire reaction of both police and
the Vancouver citizenry, the city counts more than 35 locations, and
virtually every one of those is laying plans to expand further.

"There's going to be 200 dispensaries this time next year if nothing
changes," said Dana Larsen, an early entrant into the dispensary
market and vice-president with the Canadian Association of Medical
Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD).

"I don't want to see anybody getting raided or arrested or put in jail
for selling marijuana, but if the city doesn't get a hold on it and
offer some kind of licensing, then we're just going to see open
marijuana-selling," he said, adding "and that might be a good thing."

Still, with every week yielding new pop-up dispensaries, he said he
fears the industry may be on course for a crackdown.

"I expect there to be some kind of pushback, I just hope it's not too
severe of a back-lash and that the dispensaries operating at a high
standard are left alone," he said.

It is why CAMCD has drafted detailed certification standards to, as
Mr. Larsen puts it, "help differentiate the stricter dispensaries from
the loosey goosey type places."

Among newer entrants to the dispensary trade, standards are indeed
beginning to slip. Many new locations require nothing more than a
signed form from a naturopath or a doctor of traditional Chinese
medicine, and many of those offer convenient, inhouse diagnosis. The
Facebook page of Vancouver dispensary iMedikate, for instance, boasts
"Many Get Their Medical Marijuana License In JUST ONE VISIT!"

"It's just a lot of unprofessional people getting up in the morning
and thinking they can open a dispensary - and they're destroying other
compassion clubs," said a supervisor with Nation's Best Weeds Society,
not to be confused with Weeds Glass and Gifts.

As the operators of Jim's Weeds Lounge, Nation's Best Weeds does not
exactly exude a clinical air. Painted bright green, its East Hastings
location has a neon sign of a pot leaf in the front window and an
awning with the word "Weeds" spelled out in graffiti script.

Nevertheless, the society maintains relatively strict criteria on
which patients become certified to buy. Their naturopath keeps
appointments to a minimum of 15 minutes to weed out bogus medical
claimants, and patients are issued with a laminated photo I.D. to
ensure that it cannot be passed around among friends.

"We do reject people; if they're asking questions that are not related
to the medical marijuana, they're asked to leave," said the supervisor.

Strict rules or no, in the eyes of the Vancouver Police, all of these
dispensaries are equally illegal. But, in a city wracked with much
more pressing drug problems, the department has openly said it doesn't
usually bust dispensaries unless it absolutely has to.

"We do have a priority-based approach to policing here in Vancouver,
and we do have other priorities," said Const. Brian Montague,
spokesman with the Vancouver Police.

The only exception is if a dispensary, such as was the alleged case
with Weeds Glass and Gifts, attracts enough complaints to become a
"public safety issue," he said.

"We have shut down dispensaries - not many of them - but some of them
that are clearly not providing any sort of medical assistance," said
Const. Montague.

As a former editor of Cannabis Culture magazine, cofounder of the B.C.
Marijuana Party and the leader of recent efforts to have pot
legalization taken up as a referendum issue, Mr. Larsen is one of
B.C.'s most visible advocates for the legalization of recreational

As such, he wholeheartedly supports any store looking to sell
"marijuana to anybody that walks in." He would just rather they stop
calling themselves dispensaries.

"Call it a coffee shop or a weed shop or something like that," he

Although Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu recently stated that
"Vancouver is not a wide open city for the marijuana trade," the idea
of storefront marijuana stores would not be a particularly shocking
step for Vancouver.

On the latest April 20, the unofficial marijuana holiday, the streets
around the Vancouver Art Gallery transformed into a smoke-hazed
festival of booths, tables and roving pedlars selling all manner of
marijuana and hash under brightly coloured signs reading "Weed 4 Sale"
and "Doobs 4 for $10" - and all of it within sight of placid-looking
officers manning Vancouver Police traffic barricades.

Restaurants have started to tap into the widening availability of
medical pot. Vancouver's Mega Ill Pizzeria features on-table marijuana
grinders and vaporizers, and offers a pot-infused pizza for those who
can furnish a medical marijuana card, and "Bring Your Own Cannabis"
meal options for those who can't.

Even the raided Kingsway location of Weed's Glass and Gifts can look
to a secure future in the city's booming marijuana business. The
reason for the Monday operation, part owner Don Briere soon explained
to the Georgia Straight, was a small collection of on-site pot
seedlings that had violated the police's unwritten rule against
on-site growing.

The seedlings were removed and, within minutes after the departure of
officers, the store was back up and running.

"We support the police =C2=85 everything is cool," Mr. Briere told the
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