Pubdate: Mon, 02 Feb 2015
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Fumano
Page: A1


With 61 Marijuana Dispensaries, Vancouver Has More Stores Than the 
Rest of Canada

The number of over-the-counter marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver 
has soared in the past year to an estimated 61 shops. But as for 
what's in store for 2015, the city's police, politicians and pot 
impresarios all say the future looks pretty hazy.

That tally means Vancouver has more dispensaries than the rest of 
Canada combined, according to the Canadian Association of Medical 
Cannabis Dispensaries. CAMCD, an industry organization, estimates 
that more than 80 per cent of the country's dispensaries are in B.C.

The pot shops sprouting up and spreading like weeds throughout the 
city's neighbourhoods operate without business licences, largely 
unregulated in how they advertise, and where they choose to open.

But Vancouver politicians and those in the weed dispensary business 
are calling on the federal government to regulate the industry.

"I'm frustrated,"said Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang, "because there 
is a place for medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of 
Vancouver. But the growth that we've seen is likely, in my opinion, 
starting to get out of control."

To explain the city's position, Jang points to the new federal laws 
governing medical cannabis that came into effect April 1, 2014. Among 
other restrictions, the laws require medical marijuana to be obtained 
by mail from licensed producers.

Last April's federal law, Jang said, "blocks people's access to 
medicine." The current situation, Jang said, places the City of 
Vancouver in a "conundrum."

On one hand, the city cannot create a business licence category for 
these shops because it would contravene federal law, he said. 
However, if the city shut down those retailers, Jang said, it would 
blocking access to medicine.

Last term, Vancouver council unanimously passed a motion, introduced 
by Jang, calling for the federal government to create a regulatory 
and tax structure for marijuana, similar to those in place for 
alcohol, tobacco, or prescription medicines.

"The federal government has shown no interest in doing that, to 
date," Jang said, pointing to Health Canada.

"They've created this regulatory nightmare."

Asked if he could think of a similar example of a different industry 
where dozens of storefront businesses operate without business 
licenses, Jang said "No. We don't have anything like that ... this is 
very unique."

A Health Canada spokesman wrote in an email: "Health Canada does not 
license organizations such as compassion clubs or dispensaries to 
possess, produce or distribute marijuana for medical purposes. These 
organizations were, and remain, illegal.

"This is an enforcement issue and falls under the jurisdiction of law 
enforcement agencies."

But Vancouver police have indicated no intention of cracking down in 
the near future. Instead, they've said they will take action if and 
when an individual situation calls for it.

In a recent example, VPD executed a search warrant in September on an 
East Vancouver marijuana store where "drugs were allegedly being sold 
to virtually anyone who walked in the door."

For now though, most dispensaries are not a high priority for police, 
who prefer to focus resources on violent criminals, said VPD 
spokesman Const. Brian Montague.

"People's attitudes are changing, the laws are changing. I don't 
really know what will be in store for a year from now. I think, 
again, the laws will have changed," Montague said. "We want to do the 
right thing, and part of that is listening to what the citizens of 
Vancouver want, and operating within the law of course."

Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis 
Dispensaries, said she finds herself in the "weird" position of 
representing an industry that's actually calling for more regulation 
and oversight from government.

But in the absence of government regulation, the association has 
created its own "rigorous and thorough accreditation program for 
medical cannabis dispensaries." The first certification was issued last month.

The entrepreneur behind the city's largest chain of dispensaries said 
he wants his business to be regulated and taxed like any other.

Don Briere said he runs the multi-location Weeds Glass & Gifts by the 
book; registering for a GST number, paying applicable taxes to the 
government, making payroll deductions for his 30 employees.

But they do not have a business licence.

"We want to be part of society. We want to contribute to the tax 
system. We want to contribute to jobs. This is our whole goal," Briere said.

With the current lack of regulation, Briere said he doesn't know how 
many dispensaries pay taxes like his business does. Briere, who's 
been involved for decades in the business and advocacy of marijuana, 
believes "Vancouver is the leader of the pack" on this issue.

"We have people who are willing to stand up for our rights, we have 
the courage to open the stores, the strength to keep them open, and 
the backbone to tell the truth," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom