Pubdate: Tue, 26 Apr 2016
Source: Nanaimo News Bulletin (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016, BC Newspaper Group
Author: John McKinley


Dispensary Outlets Balloon on Island

Justin Trudeau has made a large group of Vancouver Island 
entrepreneurs very excited and left a larger group of public 
officials desperately seeking guidance.

Since Trudeau's election in November, the interest in marijuana 
dispensaries on Vancouver Island has ballooned as business interests 
have tried to leap ahead of the queue on the legalized sale of pot.

Led by more than 30 dispensaries in the city of Victoria, the 
informal count of Vancouver Island pot shops is now around 50, and 
includes facilities in communities like Sooke, Sidney, the Cowichan 
Valley, Chemainus, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Campbell River.

Alex Robb is the community liaison for the Victoria-based dispensary 
firm Trees, which has three outlets there and a fourth in Nanaimo.

Robb acknowledged the current Wild West climate surrounding the 
industry, but said there is an opportunity for businesses and 
communities to work together for their mutual benefit.

He said the Island is home to a significant group of knowledgeable 
growers and marketers with professional ideas on how to protect 
consumers and create an industry that can thrive, despite fears being 
created by the boatload of speculators looking to cash in.

"It is already a market and an industry that was already pretty 
highly developed on the Island," he said. "Our aim is to be a 
legitimate business."

Right now, that is not the case. According to police, every one of 
those 50-something stores is currently breaking the law. It is the 
pending change of that law that has authorities from Port Hardy to 
Esquimalt struggling with how to deal with either their presence, or 
the fact that something similar is coming soon.

Campbell River welcomed its first two dispensaries this month with 
police raids within days of their openings. Victoria tolerates its 
shops, while working to develop a regulatory framework. Nanaimo RCMP 
watched the city's shops expand for months before raiding three of 
them in December, but have taken no action since. And Port Alberni - 
just the second city in the entire country to pass a dispensary bylaw 
- - granted Vancouver Island's first official pot shop business licence in March.

The rest of the Island seems to be watching and waiting for direction.

While the industry has taken advantage of non-profit exemptions to 
avoid business licensing requirements in some communities, the City 
of Duncan has thus far deflected overtures because it has no such exemption.

Mayor Phil Kent said that buys his council time. It can wait for 
specifics from the federal government on what the marijuana law 
actually will be before drafting regulations to address it.

Most other Island municipalities are taking the same tack, but some 
can't wait until spring 2017, which is when Canada's health minister 
Jane Philpott told the United Nations General Assembly the law 
dictating how pot can be sold would be ready.

Campbell River is, as we speak, rushing to get a bylaw in place to 
make its dispensaries illegal under city bylaws, a situation Port 
Alberni addressed in the opposite fashion with a licensing bylaw 
enacted three months after the first dispensary opened there.

"Other towns have had marijuana dispensaries open up and they're 
getting themselves way behind the eight ball trying to catch up," 
councillor Jack McLeman told the Alberni Valley News.

"I would like to see Port Alberni be proactive and control if they 
become legal where they are and if they're not legal, get rid of them 
in the end."

The main issue for municipalities is that once marijuana becomes 
legal, any problems arising from its use - or misuse - could be left 
to local authorities to deal with. That means bylaw and licensing 
enforcement and that will come with a cost.

In anticipation of that, earlier this month, Vancouver Island 
communities endorsed a resolution asking higher government to set 
aside a portion of the tax revenue it will collect from pot and give 
it to municipalities for enforcement purposes.

"Like the gas tax - we get a portion of that revenue," Kent said.

According to Robb, his company has no interest opening stores in 
communities where it isn't wanted. That's why it closed its Campbell 
River store when it became clear council was uncomfortable with its presence.

He has had conversations with Courtenay, Cumberland and Nanaimo and 
wants to find legitimacy in community partners that want to get ahead 
of the curve and work together on building a regulatory framework.

"We want to find communities that want to start the process early," 
he said. "I think they have the opportunity to shape it."

While he says Trees respects the will of councils as the elected 
representatives of a community, it does not feel the same way about 
police, who he feels have basically responded to the dispensaries 
according to the whims of each detachment's senior officer.

Late last year, the office of the police complaints commissioner 
urged the City of Victoria to provide its police service with a more 
clear direction as to expectations on dispensary enforcement. The 
RCMP, however, has no community board directing its priorities.

Police are in a similar position as local government. For them, the 
law is perfectly clear. But the need or desire to enforce it is much 
less certain.

E-Division RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Janelle Shoihet said 
compassion clubs and medicinal dispensaries cannot legally sell to 
the public, even if they have a license to produce.

Police can investigate and take action at any time, but if, when, and 
how is dependent on circumstance.

"Enforcement actions are specific and unique to each community, as 
would be the practical issues which are tied to enforcement action," 
Shoihet said. "Each detachment sets their own priorities based on the 
local circumstances in their community and public safety need. It 
wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment generally, on the practical 
issues for policing each unique community."

And it looks like the uncertainty will continue for at least a year.

"We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep 
marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands 
of criminals," Philpott said in her April 20 prepared speech to UN delegates.

"We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate 
and proportionate criminal justice measures. We know it is impossible 
to arrest our way out of this problem."

Robb said the more progressive marijuana firms have tried to build 
and adhere to their own regulatory standards - based on existing 
federal standards - through the Canadian Association of Medical 
Cannabis Dispensaries. They want to make it easy for the authorities 
to adapt pre-existing methods for certification and inspection.

"(The CAMCD said) if you guys want to continue to exist you have to 
up your standards. The more organized businesses are following 
exactly that. The less organized will not be able to continue," he said.

The dispensaries are betting on the government seeing wisdom in that 
model over other models like selling marijuana through government 
liquor stores. Ultimately, Robb thinks dispensaries can survive if 
they demonstrate they are the best way to serve communities.

"That's the model Trees has pursued, to run it as legitimately, and 
by the book, as much as possible," he said. "There will be a boom and 
then a retraction. What will close a lot of dispensaries is not the 
police or bylaws, it will be simple economics."

- - with files from Black Press
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom