Regulators urged to include so-called grey market in marijuana legalization

Feds has proposed licensing program that includes micro-cultivation licences for small-scale growers

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 the province 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 regulations.

“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 micro-grower 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 micro-growers,” she said.

The federal government has proposed a licensing 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 Dispensaries.

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.

WATCH: Province, Feds see lots of work ahead of marijuana legalization

READ MORE: Vets see an increasing number of dogs sickened by marijuana

“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 in early February 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 information.”

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.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Controversial bylaw tabled, ‘beautified’ Kent kiosk

The lastest from the District of Kent council

Chilliwack-Kent MLA decries ‘classic, big tax-and-spend’ NDP budget

Laurie Throness says budget relies on strong economy but contains no ideas to help it grow

Driver of vehicle down 90-foot embankment rescued on Highway 5 near Hope

Rope rescue conducted on mutual-aid call with Chilliwack SAR, Hope SAR and Agassiz fire department

Missing man located in Harrison Mills

Social media helps track down missing man

B.C. BUDGET: Fare freeze, free travel for seniors on BC Ferries

A complete fare freeze will be put into place on major routes, and fares will be rolled back on smaller routes by 15 per cent

VIDEO: Top 10 B.C. budget highlights

The NDP is focusing on childcare, affordable housing and speeding up the elimination of MSP premiums

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Barnful of ducks die in early morning blaze

The cause of the fire is unknown

Horses and science combine for new program at Fraser Valley school

‘I get to do something I’m passionate about,’ says Chilliwack equine studies student

Thieves make off with live trolley wires in Vancouver

Authorities warn that touching live wire can be deadly

WATCH: Vancouver Island family builds eight-foot igloo in their yard

Sunday snowfall on the mid-Island leads to all-day family activity

TransLink ready for the snow

Officials at TransLink say they are ready for the snow that is supposed to fall this weekend

Three new judges appointed to B.C. Supreme Court

Two spots filled in Vancouver, one in New Westminster

BCHL Today: Merritt’s Buckley nets scholarship and Vees slam Salmon Arm

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Most Read