Pubdate: Mon, 05 Feb 2018
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Laura Kane
Page: FP5


If it wasn't for the scent, customers who wandered into Eden Medicinal
Society would be forgiven for thinking they had entered a boutique
health store rather than a marijuana dispensary.

The distinctive fragrance greets shoppers at the door. It wafts from
jars filled with bright green British Columbia bud lining spotless
glass shelves. Flat-screen monitors on gleaming white walls display
prices of golden hemp flower paste and mocha THC syrup.

Behind the counter stands Vanessa Dandurand, the 30- year-old store
manager with an encyclopedic knowledge of cannabis and many dedicated
return customers.

"For so many of our clients, this can be the only positive interaction
they have all day. Their other stops today might be the pharmacy to
pick up their prescription. It might be their doctor who tells them
their cancer isn't getting any better," she said.

The dispensary operates in the so-called grey market, or the portion
of the marijuana industry that has both illegal and legal elements.
Federal law bans selling weed over the counter, but Vancouver and
Victoria have granted business licences to more than two dozen pot
shops, including this Eden location.

With legalization looming this summer, the fate of the licensed weed
stores remains hazy. While B.C. has said it will allow both private
and public shops, it has not released its full slate of regulations
nor made clear how existing dispensaries will be incorporated.

There are a dizzying number of questions for the province to consider,
said Kerry Jang, a Vancouver councillor and co-chair of a
provincial-municipal committee providing input on B.C.'s marijuana

"If you were to roll in the current existing cannabis shops, right now
they're selling a lot of illegal product. We know under the federal
rules they have to sell only product that's grown by a licensed
producer, so what happens to the old product?" he asked.

"Is it destroyed? Are they allowed to sell it until the stocks are
gone, or is it turned over, or do they have to get rid of it before
they get a provincial licence?"

Eden purchases its cannabis from small growers who hold Health Canada
licences under the federal medical marijuana law, said community
outreach co-ordinator Denise Brennan.

Currently, the law only allows these licence-holders to grow for their
own use or act as a designated grower for specific people. But Brennan
said Eden plans to help its producers apply for microgrower licences
under the new legal regime.

"It would make a lot of sense, in general, for independent
dispensaries to continue along with their partnerships with
microgrowers," she said.

The federal government has proposed a l i c ensing program that
includes micro-cultivation licences for small-scale growers, but the
regulations have yet to be finalized.

Canada should follow the lead of U. S. states that have successfully
transitioned existing dispensaries into the legal market, said Jeremy
Jacob, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis

In California, stores licensed by the local government were allowed to
stay open until their application for a state licence was approved or
denied, while Colorado gave priority to existing medical marijuana
businesses and producers when it began licensing for recreational
sales, he said.

"They captured a whole bunch of the existing market and simply
regulated it," said Jacob. "They gave a head start to small business."

Jacob co-founded The Village dispensary, which he says is on track to
receive a business licence from Vancouver. Co-founder Andrea Dobbs
said she's concerned about the federal government's plan to take an
extra year to legalize edible products.

"I met a man yesterday who has been given two months to live," she
said. "A year is a long time when you have a life-threatening ailment."

Vancouver launched its licensing regime in 2015 after the number of
illegal dispensaries in the city grew to nearly 100. Stores must pay a
$30,000 annual fee and be located at least 300 metres away from
schools, community centres and each other.

Many unlicensed locations closed, but others have stayed open and
racked up tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines. The city began
asking for court injunctions against unlicensed stores in 2016, but a
test case won't be heard in court until September.

Jang said he hopes provincial regulation speeds up the process of
shutting down illegitimate shops.

"We're saying to the province: you have to be able to act on
enforcement quickly," he said, adding he hopes to see a system similar
to what's in place for alcohol.

"The provincial liquor inspectors can go out and say, ' This bar is
selling to underage kids. We're going to take away your licence and
shut your doors.' And there's no buts about it. That's it. It's over."

B. C.'s Public Safety Ministry will announce details of the marijuana
retail model this month and enforcement is a key consideration, a
spokesman said.

"One of our top priorities is keeping the criminal out of the
non-medical cannabis business," he said. "In addition, an important
part of implementing the new regulations will be public education and

A study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy last
year surveyed more than 440 people who used cannabis and found they
preferred buying it from dispensaries to growing it at home or getting
it from a dealer. The data was collected in 2011, under a different
medical cannabis regime, but it still sheds light on the relationships
dispensaries have with patients, said co-author Zachary Walsh, who
teaches psychology at the University of British Columbia.

"Across the board, people really seemed to value the service
dispensaries were offering," he said. "There was certainly a strong
bond between dispensary customers and proprietors."
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