2015 TOP STORIES: Marijuana goes mainstream as legalization looms

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THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Marijuana made the news so much in 2015 you could almost smell it wafting across Canada.

Supporters could definitely smell change in the air as outright legalization of the drug became part of Justin Trudeau's winning campaign in the 2015 federal election. No sooner was he elected that unions started proposing responsible ways to sell it — in liquor stores.

While the country waits to see exactly what Trudeau has in store, the battle for medical marijuana remains up in the air. Health Canada is in the midst of switching from its much-maligned medical marijuana access program that allowed licensed users to grow pot at home to an equally-maligned system of large-scale commercial dispensaries that grow their own product and mail it to Canadians.

A challenge to the changes planned by Health Canada is also wending its way through the Supreme Court of Canada while an injunction has allowed some licensed home growers to continue even as the entire system changes around them.

Closer to home, outside of Vancouver, operators of unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries coexisted uneasily with local RCMP and civic politicians.

The dispensaries operate in a legal grey area, tolerated as non-profit compassion clubs in most B.C. jurisdictions but generally refused business licenses.

The result is patchwork of enforcement with some, like Kaya in Kelowna, subject to police raids while others, like Herbal Health Centre in Vernon the subject of warnings from RCMP to shut down.

Hasia Glaim at the MMJ Total Health Centre downtown Vernon.
Hasia Glaim at the MMJ Total Health Centre downtown Vernon.

Caught in the middle are the patients, like the young Summerland girl, Kyla Williams, whose parents have been giving her marijuana oil to combat a rare form of epilepsy that causes hundreds of seizures daily.

She’s just one example of patients turning to the grey market as the so-called licensed producers struggled to meet the stringent demands of Health Canada.

Meanwhile, a Vancouver pain clinic that prescribes marijuana, is eyeing Kelowna for expansion after buying its way into the Kamloops market.

Medical Cannabis Resource Centre employs provincially registered MDs to prescribe medical marijuana for pain management, referring patients only to the federally licensed commercial producers and dispensing no product themselves.

In West Kelowna, two dispensaries opened, which noted cannabis activist Dana Larsen said may be the only two in Canada that have the word “marijuana” on their business licenses.

Black Crow Herbal and Vital Alternative Healing Association may have received their business licenses but the City of West Kelowna says it is keeping an eye on the two companies.

No doubt, medicinal and recreational use of marijuana is going to be a continuing topic in 2016. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email John McDonald at jmcdonald@infonews.ca or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

Editor's Note in response to allegations from Vernon RCMP Supt. Jim McNamara
Editor’s note: • Watch shifts at the Vernon detachment have fallen to as low as three roadable officers. • The department suffers from chronic understaffing. • Sources, who we trust and who have knowledge of the s

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