Pubdate: Wed, 29 Apr 2015
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Authors: Jeff Lee and Peter O'Neil
Page: A1


Ottawa Tells City to Enforce the Law; Pot Activists Vow to Fight 
City's Regulation Effort

Vancouver found itself facing a fight on two fronts Tuesday in its 
efforts to regulate and license marijuana shops.

On one hand, the federal government increased its opposition to the 
city's plans and expressly told the Vancouver Police Department it 
should enforce Canada's drug laws.

On the other, pot activists vowed to fight if the proposed city 
conditions come into effect. The proposals include $30,000 licensing 
fees and closing shops near schools and community centres, while 
allowing them in most commercial districts.

Caught between the two is Mayor Gregor Robertson's city council, 
which voted on Wednesday to send the plan to a public hearing.

They did so after city manager Penny Ballem, supported by the police 
department and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said the city 
had to do something to rein in a Wild West of unregulated, unlicensed 
pot shops. Only Non-Partisan Association Coun. Elizabeth Ball 
disagreed, saying as a lawmaker she can't support a municipal plan 
that would legitimize something that is illegal across Canada.

Two federal ministers, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety 
Minister Steven Blaney, on Wednesday sent a second stern warning, 
this one to all council members and the Vancouver police, saying 
authorities should crack down rather than regulate, and thereby 
legitimize, pot dispensaries.

In their letters, the ministers said the city's action could lead to 
the tripling of use among young people of a substance that can lead 
to "serious and lasting" health harm.

"Storefront sales of marijuana are illegal and under our government 
will remain illegal," Ambrose and Blaney stated.

Pot activists disagree with regulation and licensing, and the city's 
plans to shut down as many as two-thirds of the 80 illegal 
dispensaries now in operation.

"As activists, we will mobilize. We will not let one dispensary get 
shut down. If they try that type of enforcement, we will be there en 
masse," said Neil Magnuson, a member of the United Cannabis Activists 
Network. "This is harming dispensary owners. Our city is now actively 
going to harm its citizens through these bylaws, citizens who have 
harmed no one."

Magnuson said pot dispensers shouldn't have to be vetted by police or 
be prevented from opening stores near schools.

"Cannabis dispensaries close to schools do not harm the children in 
those schools," he said. "We have liquor stores, pharmacies, stores 
that sell tobacco close to schools. Cannabis leaves in windows do not 
harm children."

Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical officer for the health 
authority, said Vancouver is only trying to get a grip on a problem 
exacerbated by the federal government's change last year to medical 
marijuana laws.

"Taking a regulatory approach is actually the best way to reduce the 
harm associated with marijuana use. We know that trying to shut these 
places down will just drive distribution of marijuana back into the 
illegal market and organized crime," she said.

The Ottawa-Vancouver battle is in some ways a proxy for a larger 
political battlefield, given the federal election set for October.

The Conservatives have attacked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's 
promise to legalize marijuana if his party wins power. The New 
Democratic Party, meanwhile, has called for decriminalization of possession.

The Liberals and NDP side with Vancouver, saying regulation is a 
reasonable way to deal with the chaos of the status quo.

"The Conservatives are playing politics and doubling down on a failed 
war-on-drugs approach, at the same time that they've made medical 
marijuana increasingly difficult and expensive for chronically ill 
patients to access," said Murray Rankin, the New Democratic Party MP 
for Victoria.

The City of Vancouver, which has opposed the Harper government's 
restrictive views on drugs in the past, appeared not to be concerned 
about the renewed pressure. Instead, Ballem, a practising physician, 
told council there is clear medical evidence that marijuana is useful 
to patients dealing with cancer.

Some council members were uneasy with the activist stance the city is 
taking, but said they can't comment fully on the issue under the 
city's procedure bylaw until after the public hearing.

But they posed questions to Ballem that they say need to be answered 
either before or at the hearing. Those include the mechanics of how 
the city would ensure rules of operation.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom