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Smouldering B.C. pot debate puts City of Vancouver, federal minister at impasse

Marijuana plants grow as Julia Ratcliffe, a technical consultant with The Bug Factory, a company that supplies insects for natural pest control, works at the MediJean medical marijuana facility in Richmond, B.C., on Friday March 21, 2014.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
April 25, 2015 - 4:28 PM

SURREY, B.C. - Vancouver's mayor has snuffed out a suggestion made by federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose that the city shut medical-marijuana dispensaries, rather than regulate them.

"No," Gregor Robertson told reporters, when asked Friday if the city would comply.

The dispute between the city and federal minister over Vancouver's plans to regulate the booming medical pot-trade has heightened throughout the week, threatening to turn into a standoff, as Robertson and Ambrose appeared at separate events in Metro Vancouver.

It began Wednesday, when city staff announced they will present a report to council that recommends regulation of the flourishing medical pot industry, enforcing a $30,000 licensing fee and requiring the shops to be at least 300 metres from schools.

Ambrose responded on Thursday with a strongly worded letter to Robertson warning that "normalizing" marijuana will increase use and addiction, especially among youth.

She followed up on Friday, telling reporters at an event in Surrey, B.C., that the city must "re-think" its plans to discuss regulating medicinal pot shops at an upcoming council meeting.

"The issue for me is a public-health issue. First of all, marijuana dispensaries are illegal," she said. "Marijuana is not a medicine, it is not approved as a medicine by Health Canada, nor has it gone through any of the typical rigorous clinical trials that are necessary for medicine to be approved."

Ambrose wouldn't say what her government is prepared to do if Vancouver goes ahead with the new regulations.

"I would leave that to the police," she said. "But I would also say to you that this resolution hasn't passed council yet. They're thinking about it, they have a problem on their hands. A lot of people want to make a lot of money."

In March 2014, Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu said his department didn't consider the enforcement of medical marijuana dispensaries a priority. He said police were intent on capturing violent drug traffickers who posed a danger to the community, and the dispensaries didn't fit that priority.

Robertson responded to Ambrose Friday afternoon, telling reporters the courts have ruled on the issue, and all the city can do is regulate the businesses like others because it can't let them operate in a vacuum.

That wouldn't be fair to other businesses and it wouldn't be appropriate for kids to have easy access to marijuana, said Robertson.

"We want to be sure there are some good solid guidelines here," he said. "Ultimately, the federal government is going to need to decide what courses of action they’re going to take with medical marijuana and marijuana in general."

Coun. Kerry Jang has said the federal government's restrictive medical marijuana laws forced the city to step in and that the new rules are specifically designed to prevent exposure to kids.

Marijuana dispensaries have popped up in larger cities across Canada, but nowhere has the growth been as accelerated than in Vancouver.

The number of dispensaries in the city has multiplied from six to 80 in just two years.

Vancouver's city council is expected to consider the staff report on medical marijuana during a meeting Tuesday

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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