Pubdate: Mon, 16 Oct 2017
Source: Daily Courier, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 The Okanagan Valley Group of Newspapers
Page: A3


Researchers say governments will have to legalize pot shops or
incorporate elements from them into new model

UBC researchers are cautioning policy-makers not to alter a cannabis
distribution system that, while not yet legal, works well.

Photo contributedUBC Okanagan psychology professor Zach Walsh recently
published a study examining the roles independent marijuana
dispensaries play in cannabis access.

Associate professor Zach Walsh, who teaches at UBC's Okanagan campus,
and PhD candidate Rielle Capler say storefront dispensaries - often
under fire from bylaw enforcement and city governments - are a tried
and true method of selling cannabis. The pair recently published a
study on medicinal cannabis dispensaries and determined customers
prefer the independent storefront as opposed to growing their own or
getting it from a dealer.

In Canada, dispensaries are not an authorized source for cannabis,
although many operate as "compassion clubs" selling cannabis for
medical - not recreational - purposes. Research by Walsh and Capler
suggests that when recreational marijuana use becomes legal in 2018,
the current system of dispensaries should remain.

"Dispensaries do serve a role in our society, especially for some
people with chronic illnesses who use cannabis for medicinal
purposes," said Walsh. "There is a selfregulatory model that already
exists and improvements can be made in a legalized

The study is one of the first to specifically look at the experience
of dispensary users. It compared their experiences to those who
purchase cannabis through other sources including self-production and
illegal sources, such as friends or street dealers.

"Our study shows there are people who have preferences for
dispensaries especially compared to other illegal sources," said
Capler. "Our study also provides insight into some of the aspects of
dispensaries that the government may want to emulate in the legal
framework for both medical and recreational use."

Recently, the Ontario government announced that once restrictions come
off next year, it will sell marijuana in dedicated stores run by the
province's liquor control board.

While operating under the shadows of provincial laws and city bylaws,
dispensaries have thrived in neighbourhoods across Canada.

However, some municipal governments in the Okanagan have taken steps
to shut them down, saying they're illegal.

Capler calls the current method a "natural experiment" that's been
underway for decades and says lawmakers should keep this in mind when
addressing regulation policies.

"Dispensaries are not new and they provide a proven, valuable
service," she said. "While some are thought of as a nuisance, in
reality many of these dispensaries are small, independent,
long-standing businesses who serve a dedicated clientele."

For their research, more than 440 people who use cannabis for
therapeutic purposes were asked to compare different methods of
purchasing cannabis on a number of factors such as quality of product,
safety, availability, efficiency and feeling respected. Study
participants rated dispensaries highly across most categories with the
only prominent negative being that the cost of dispensary product is
often higher than from a street dealer.

"Clearly, dispensaries are already playing a big role in cannabis
access in Canada," Capler added. "The provincial and municipal
governments will have to either look at including them in a legal
framework or drawing on what's working in dispensaries as they build a
new model. We want to think this paper may, in some way, guide policy
to create a system that works."

Their research, supported by a grant from the UBC Institute for
Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention, was recently published
in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

- - Contributed by UBC Okanagan
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