Pubdate: Thu, 12 May 2016
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell


Thought I'd give you a little more insight into the illegal marijuana 
dispensary revolution/battle/gong show playing out in this town.

I'll focus on one block of Commercial Drive, from East 13th to East 
14th. Along that stretch is the B.C. Pain Society (at East 13th and 
Commercial), the B.C. Compassion Club (southwest corner of East 14th 
and Commercial) and Stratford Hall private school (southeast corner 
of East 14th and Commercial).

They are so close to each other that if staff from each place stood 
out on their sidewalks, they could wave to each other. But this trio 
of neighbours is not exactly chummy.

They all have their reasons.

I'll begin with the B.C. Pain Society, which at the time of writing 
this sentence, had already received two $250 tickets for operating a 
business without a licence.

As regular readers will know, the city set April 29 as the deadline 
for all pot shops that hadn't met certain zoning requirements or 
distancing regulations -- or weren't already in the process of 
seeking a business licence -- to close their doors. Last time I 
checked, 44 tickets (including 21 to three shops) were handed out and 
22 dispensaries closed.

The Pain Society, which made headlines for being the first pot shop 
in Canada to sell marijuana in a vending machine, was supposed to 
shut down because it fell within 300 metres of a school. Stratford 
Hall was one of those schools. The dispensary is also within 300 
metres of St. Joseph's School, which is much further south on the 
other side of Clark Park.

The Pain Society, which opened more than two years ago, argued its 
case at a Board of Variance hearing and lost. The shop's owner, Chuck 
Varabioff, told me he felt the decision was pre-determined and that 
he wasn't given enough time to respond to complaints from Stratford Hall.

Staff and parents from Stratford Hall showed up and told the board 
they didn't want the pot shop in the neighbourhood. After all, they 
said, the school opened before the Pain Society did.

Which is an interesting point because the Compassion Club was on the 
block long before Stratford Hall. Even more interesting is the school 
didn't attend the Compassion Club's Board of Variance hearing. I 
heard later from a staff member that its position on the Compassion 
Club was "neutral."

St. Joseph's School, which didn't show up to either hearing, told me 
they didn't have an issue with the Compassion Club staying in its 
present location. St. Joseph's said nothing about the Pain Society.

I should point out the Pain Society is a retail operation, whereas 
the Compassion Club is what its name suggests. It offers health 
services, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, craniosacral 
therapy, counseling, reiki and yoga. The board heard the club had 
3,300 health care appointments last year.

Also, the Compassion Club is the oldest dispensary in Vancouver and 
has operated with "tacit approval" from the city and the police since 
the late 1990s, according to founder Hilary Black.

But none of this washes with Varabioff. He makes the point that 
whether a dispensary is set up as a retail operation or a compassion 
club, the fact is this: marijuana is being sold on the premises.

"They're selling the same product," said Varabioff, noting Stratford 
Hall students regularly walk by the Compassion Club and its customers 
on their way to Clark Park. "If [the Compassion Club] were any closer 
to the school, they would be part of the school."

Added Varabioff: "I'm more compassionate than anyone. I get cancer 
patients coming in here and I give them free product. So how much 
more compassionate do you want than that?"

Further complicating this mess on the block is all the Supreme Court 
of Canada decisions that favour the use of weed (and edibles) and the 
feds' recent announcement that it will introduce legislation next 
spring to legalize marijuana.

For now, Varabioff plans to dispute his tickets. You should also know 
he is one of seven operators in this city who have a development 
permit to open another shop - this time, so far, with the approval of 
the city; his next step is applying for a business licence for a new 
shop at 2849 East Broadway.

The Compassion Club is currently putting more paperwork together to 
seek a development permit to remain in its current location. If that 
is granted, then it, too, can apply for a business licence.

The schools, meanwhile, continue to operate and the city continues to 
hand out tickets. Which brings me to this thought: I wonder what 
would have happened had the city and cops got together in October 
2013 to take action against the pot shops when there were only 29 in the city?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom