The complicated issue of why 29 illegal marijuana dispensaries are allowed to operate in Vancouver has become more complicated for residents and politicians now that two such shops and a store that sells marijuana seeds set up almost side-by-side within a half-block of a community centre.
The three storefront operations are located along a strip of East Hastings within 100 feet of the Ray-Cam Community Centre, which is a hub for neighbourhood children and has a childcare facility.
So why haven’t they been shut down?
The short answer is because the Vancouver Police Department is focused on targeting violent drug activity connected to the sale of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, as a VPD report outlined last week.
In addition, as Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang told the Courier Monday, there is no city bylaw governing cannabis sales “as cannabis is legal and not legal at the same time under federal law.”
Jang is referring to Health Canada’s rules that allow certain people to grow marijuana and sell it to people who are legally allowed to buy it for medicinal use. The recipient requires a prescription from a medical doctor.
“Federal law trumps city bylaws,” said Jang, acknowledging the confusion the general public has about the sale and production of marijuana. “So, it’s not a simple problem. At the end of the day, the real issue is ensuring patients have access to their medication.”
That confusion could be eradicated next April when the federal government plans to have all marijuana cultivated for medicinal purposes come from a government dispensary and delivered by mail.
Any attempts by the city to create a new bylaw and enforce it would likely lead to legal battles in the courts, according to Jang. And, he added, such a bylaw would be irrelevant when the government adopts the new rules governing medicinal marijuana.
That assessment, however, shouldn’t give the public the wrong impression that police and the city are simply allowing illegal pot dispensaries to proliferate without intervention by authorities, Jang said.
“If any dispensary is not dispensing under Health Canada guidelines, then the city does investigate and shut down [the dispensary] and turn it over to VPD to pursue criminal charges on the operators,” he said.
But until new legislation is adopted, Judy McGuire of the Inner City Safety Society and member of the Ray-Cam board of directors said such shops are hurting a neighbourhood that has its struggles with children and teenagers. McGuire said the city should have created a bylaw years ago to prevent pot shops operating near a community centre, childcare facility or school. “You don’t expose kids to this,” she said. “And we know, anecdotally, some of these shops are willing to deal with kids — kids wander in there instead of going to basketball practice. I’ve heard this from families and parents in the area.”
Jim Harrison, manager of Weeds dispensary on the strip, said he sells his cannabis products only to customers who are 19 or older and have been given a prescription from a doctor. Harrison said he has a Health Canada licence for personal possession of marijuana and a grower’s licence.
Weeds opened in May, joining The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary and the Vancouver Seed Bank that have operated on the strip for at least five years.
Harrison, a 65-year-old military veteran, doesn’t have a business licence from the city but has a posted document on his wall that he obtained under the Society Act of B.C. to operate a compassion club. During the Courier’s visit, customers purchased marijuana at a counter and smoked it outside the back entrance to the shop.
“We’re part of the community and we want to be accepted by the community,” said Harrison, who said he has 300 members and another 895 on a waiting list.
Harrison said his business donates money and empty pop cans to Ray-Cam every month. As a public service, he added, he “chases the hookers off the corners” so parents and their children aren’t exposed to prostitution.
“I tell all parents who walk by with kids that if they’re ever in trouble, they can knock on the door,” he said, describing his business as safe and providing a service for people’s ailments that are best treated with cannabis products.
© Copyright 2013