Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick


This Friday (April 29) is the deadline for illicit marijuana
dispensaries to shut their doors or risk steep city fines and other
disciplinary measures.

The city estimates there are about 80 storefronts selling cannabis
that will be affected by the order to close. By the Straight's
calculation, that means $10 million to $29 million could be forced
back into Vancouver's underground economy every month.

"It's an enormous amount," said Jodie Emery, owner of Cannabis Culture
and long-time advocate for drug-policy reform. "People have always
found a way to find pot, whether it's a corporate-looking storefront
or a shady dealer in an alleyway. Which would the government prefer we
have? By saying 'We want to shut down these shops', it's saying the
government prefers the alternative, and the alternative is shady
street-level dealing."

The Straight's estimate for unsanctioned sales begins with the
conservative assumption that each storefront moves between one and
three pounds of marijuana per day at an average price of $60 for a
quarter ounce. Those rough numbers (confirmed as realistic by several
dispensary operators interviewed) were then multiplied to obtain sales
per month. Annually, it equates to $114 million to $343 million that
the city could return to the black market. Some operators guessed that
the annual figure could be as high as $750 million (based on shops
selling an average of five pounds per day in smaller amounts with
higher profit margins).

Emery suggested that marijuana dealers with a bricks-and-mortar
location have an extra incentive to pay taxes on all of that money and
keep operations aboveboard. She said that's what the city is taking

The deadline is the latest step in a regulatory process that began
when Vancouver adopted a legal framework for marijuana businesses in
June 2015. In a telephone interview, Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry
Jang defended the city's decision to close many storefronts.

"I think the money is already underground," he said.

Jang questioned how many dispensaries are paying the full amount of
taxes they're required to. "That's why we are very supportive of
legalization," he said. "To get that money from the underground, to
take out as much organized crime as we can, and to really have an
account of what really goes through." (The federal government plans to
legalize recreational marijuana in the spring of 2017.)

Jang noted that the city's process will end with about 20
dispensaries. He argued that this number strikes a balance on

The president of the Canadian Association of Medicinal Cannabis
Dispensaries, Dieter MacPherson, told the Straight by phone that a
resurgence of a black market is an inevitable result of supply and

"When these stores shut down and the market is pushed back into
unregulated, non-storefront businesses, then we see all sorts of
additional risks," he said. "So they may be doing themselves a
disservice in the long run by limiting it to so few dispensaries." 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D