That marijuana is on the agenda for the upcoming federal election campaign behooves us to know more about the Canadian marijuana scene. Items in the Vancouver media this week are highly relevant.
The Vancouver Sun featured a front page story Wednesday on Vancouver’s annual (who knew?) 4/20 rally that has “evolved into a giant farmers’ market for marijuana” which attracted 20,000 people this year. The event occurs on the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the heart of downtown Vancouver. But the “unexpectedly large numbers” this year swelled into nearby streets and caused the city to close Robson Street on Monday morning to avoid accidents.
4/20 organizers consider the event a demonstration and run it without obtaining a city special event permit. The City has acquiesced to that position in the past, but the Downtown Business Improvement Association is now demanding that the rally be licensed as a special event. And now, Vancouver City Council wants to regulate marijuana activities in the city, as is done in Colorado and Washington States.
The non-profit organization, Cannabis Culture, that runs the rally says they “can’t get permits because it is an illegal event with hundreds of people selling marijuana,” they can’t afford the insurance required to get a special event permit, and “unless marijuana is legalized,” they can’t get large business to sponsor the events. To cover the costs of the rally, organizers solicited donations from about 100 vendors for advance booking space. Policing, traffic enforcement and major clean-up costs fall to the city, although organizers did help city workers clear the trash. The 4/20 organizers told the Sun reporters that they had wanted to move the rally to the grounds of the Vancouver Convention Centre, which is bigger and away from traffic, but the city refused their request.
In a sidebar to that article, Tiffany Crawford tells how “high-tech pot vending machines” are coming to Vancouver. Last year, the B.C. Pain Society installed Canada’s first marijuana vending machine at its East Vancouver site for members with doctor’s certificates. Another Vancouver-based cannabis company, Kaneh Bosm Biotechnology, now plans to install two more BioCanna ADMs at unspecified locations. These machines will automatically screen out people under 18 years of age, verify by the use of pin numbers that they are registered users, and limit the amounts that can be obtained each day. President Michael Martinz told Crawford that the company “chose Vancouver to operate its ADM pilot project because (the) marijuana market is entrenched here.” The city is “home to about 80 medical marijuana dispensaries… operating in a legal grey area…. The federal government overhauled the medical marijuana system last year to make only large-scale operations that are certified by Health Canada legal. However, the city and local police in Vancouver do not enforce these laws.”
In the B.C. edition of the Globe and Mail the same day, Laura Kane reported on the preliminary results of a national survey conducted by UBC PhD student, Rielle Capler, and UBC nursing professor, Lynda Balneaves, on the impact of changing federal regulations on medical marijuana users. The old Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) permitted certified users to grow their own pot or to find designated growers. The new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) require medical cannabis patients to buy only from licensed producers. A court challenge to these new rules is pending in the Federal Court, and an injunction has been obtained to keep the existing program in place for already-enrolled patients. To date, only one-eighth of the 450 surveyed patients have registered in the new program. Problems with the new program include: the higher cost (four to five times the cost-per-gram of growing one’s own), lack of access in rural areas, and the inability of the larger companies to keep up a supply that meets the demand. The many medical marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver require doctor’s certificates and apply quality standards to their product. Medical cannabis patients continue to use them, but their lack of legal status adds to their stress.
Eight days ago, marijuana was not on my radar screen. Our visit to Colorado has changed that. In Vancouver, it is a pressing issue. The front page story in the Vancouver Sun yesterday was that Vancouver is about to become the first city in Canada where the business of selling marijuana will be regulated and permitted. Proposed regulations (including substantial fees for business licenses and administration costs) are before City Council for discussion next week, and will take several months to implement. Reporter Jeff Lee quotes city councillor Kerry Jang as saying that the city is “not getting into” the question of legalizing the sale and purchase of marijuana. “We are simply regulating an unregulated business, just as we would any other business.” Marijuana may be illegal in Canada, but the reality of a “dispensary explosion” is forcing municipal action to fill a legal void. Watch for further developments.