Pubdate: Fri, 15 Sep 2017
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Fumano
Page: A4


Cannabis retailers waiting to learn fate

Like a vignette of small-town life, a laid-back shopkeeper sits at a
yellow table beside the unlocked bicycle leaning against the
storefront, smiles, puts down his coffee mug and greets a customer by

"Hey Fred, how ya doing?" Jeremy Jacob said to his visitor Thursday,
welcoming his old friend into the shop.

Jacob and his wife Andrea Dobbs run a family business in Kitsilano, a
bright, airy space where a loud waterfall rushes outside, dozens of
cannabis products line the shelves inside, and a Pomeranian named Lego
lounges on the ground.

Jacob said it was "surreal" Thursday afternoon, to think that while we
chatted at the shop, politicians were gathered five minutes away
discussing the future of not only his family's shop but the whole
industry of dispensaries - which, while illegal under federal law,
have become the preferred place for many Canadians to shop and have
proliferated across Canada, especially in Vancouver.

In addition to running his own place, The Village Dispensary in
Kitsilano, Jacob represents the national industry group as president
of the Canadian Association for Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.

On Thursday, just a stoner's throw away across the Granville Street
Bridge, Canada's federal, provincial and territorial ministers
responsible for justice and public safety met at a downtown hotel
where cannabis legalization was a top agenda item.

When Ottawa legalizes marijuana next July, it will be left to
provincial governments to figure out how to regulate its sale.

"Obviously, the province holds our future," Jacob said.

He hopes Victoria will look south for examples, where some U.S. state
governments brought the most established and responsible of the "grey
area" operators into the fold when non-medicinal legalization came
into effect.

Jacob pointed to California, a jurisdiction which, like B.C., has a
decades-long history of compassion clubs predating legalization. The
chief of California's Bureau of Cannabis, Lori Ajax, has emphasized in
recent interviews the importance of bringing as many of those existing
operators as possible into the regulated market, "particularly those
that are complying with their local jurisdiction."

That's the kind of "inclusive" approach Jacob hopes to

By contrast, Jacob said, he was discouraged by Ontario's plan,
released last week. The first province to unveil a framework for legal
pot sales, Ontario intends to close private dispensaries and open a
small number of its own stores, run by the Liquor Control Board of

Ontario's plan was met with widespread criticism, and not only from
the dispensary lobby. National Post columnist Andrew Coyne wrote this
week: "The combination of increased demand and limits on supply is a
sure way to sustain a flourishing black market, notwithstanding the
government's vows to suppress it. Ontario will get few of the promised
benefits of legalization, but all of the costs of a state monopoly."

Similarly, Jacob said: "What Ontario's done is ensure that there will
be a thriving black market ... They picked the worst of the American
models to follow."

Jacob said he's still optimistic B.C. will take a different approach,
noting the province's "history of supporting small businesses and
entrepreneurs." He said he was encouraged by John Horgan's comments
earlier this week in an interview on CKNW, where the B.C. premier said
he'd like to see a system "that benefits those who want to participate
as entrepreneurs."

Jacob said: "We need a made-in-B.C. solution, because we have a very
unique situation here."

On CKNW, Horgan alluded to B.C.'s unique situation, too, when he
chuckled as he said: "B.C. is a mature jurisdiction, I'd like to say,
when it comes to marijuana, as everyone knows."

B.C.'s dispensaries, Jacob said, provide a wide range of products and
a "level of care, compassion and service that you don't see in
pharmacies or liquor stores."

Dobbs, Jacob's wife and partner, is hopeful B.C. will find a place for
mom-and-pop boutique cannabis retailers in the age of commercialized,
legal pot.

"If I'm going to be corny, this is where the heart is," she said. "I
would be sad to see it become very sterile and basically to take the
heart out of it. B.C. has had this history of 20 years of compassion
clubs, but maybe that's not an experience that resonates with other

Dobbs wasn't sure how long the justice ministers would stick around
Vancouver, but she wanted to extend to them an open invitation to
visit The Village if they have a free moment before leaving town -
especially those from provinces without a long history of cannabis
culture and dispensaries, such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, whose
leaders have appealed to Ottawa to delay legalization.

"I really wish they would put boots to the ground and come and see it
for themselves," Dobbs said in the shop. "And this is a fantasy, but I
wish they would try a product."
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