Leadership needed on pot dispensary issue

There’s growth in medical marijuana dispensaries and Nanaimo isn’t immune, with pot shops cropping up across the city.

A labelled and bagged chocolate brownie that rested between me and a ‘budtender’ last week represents everything wrong with B.C.’s budding marijuana dispensaries.

It was an offering by a dispensary employee, made unsolicited to a non-registered, non-prescription-holding reporter. That’s not supposed to happen and it raises the question of how ‘Wild West’ the frontier of medical marijuana has become.

There’s growth in medical marijuana dispensaries and Nanaimo isn’t immune, with pot shops cropping up across the city.

It’s unknown exactly how many dispensaries exist today, with numbers ranging from five to nine, but they’re here and there should be debate about how to address them.

Health Canada only authorizes six licensed producers in B.C. to sell medical marijuana to registered, medically prescribed patients and it can’t be from storefronts, but Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said the federal government isn’t providing resources to enforce its rules.

According to McKay, the federal government has made it clear the operations aren’t legal, but there’s little the city can do about it because in his opinion, resources aren’t coming from the federal government to uphold its law and view on dispensaries.

He’s prepared to make an emergency motion to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, urging the federal government to contribute resources or expedite a Supreme Court challenge to federal rules governing medical marijuana. McKay expects there will be more dispensaries, with nobody stopping them, and isn’t open to seeing the city license the businesses, which he says would add legitimacy to them.

Currently the City of Nanaimo does not issue business licences to dispensaries because it sees them as illegal, but neither does it ticket offenders.

The municipality and the police both have concerns about dispensaries. Randy Churchill, the city’s manager of bylaw services, doesn’t want to see marijuana produced in a way that jeopardizes the safety of communities and neighbourhoods. The Nanaimo RCMP have concerns about the origin of marijuana sold in dispensaries and what testing is done, but enforcing the law around dispensaries means time and resources spent on investigations and it depends on policing priorities that are evaluated daily.

“I have never said that they have a free ride or we aren’t going to pursue action against dispensaries,”said Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Mark Fisher. “It’s just, as I said, a matter of what evidence we gather and when.”

The problem is these dispensaries are being allowed to continue without government standards, structures or regulations. No matter what public opinion might be when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, or the legitimacy of people’s need for the drug, public safety needs to come first.

If dispensary doors remain open in Nanaimo, then there needs to be rules, quality controls and information about where their product is being produced. I’ve talked to dispensaries that require doctor’s notes and another that only requires people to self declare a serious medical condition. I saw a sign offering free joints to people who donate to the food bank, and heard about bunk weed that’s unable to be sold, rolled and used in a smoke session. That doesn’t speak to a ‘pharmacy’ environment and if a drug is being distributed because of a lack of action by authorities, then somewhere and at some level leadership needs to be taken to ensure there’s no more grey area clouding this issue. It’s either allowed and regulated, or banned and enforced but this growing business can’t be allowed to exist in limbo where it continues to operate in this city unchecked.

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Nanaimo News Bulletin