HELSTON: The outlaws in 'Weed Country' aren't going quietly - InfoNews

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HELSTON: The outlaws in 'Weed Country' aren't going quietly

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
December 04, 2015 - 8:22 AM

It might have been novel five years ago in Vernon to see a medical marijuana dispensary, but these days you can find them next-door to downtown cafes, across from the mall, and around the corner from your neighbourhood gym.

They aren’t hard to find, and that’s because they aren’t hiding. They’re out in the open, where the people are. The young, entrepreneurial operators of one downtown business were even handing out hot chocolate and hot dogs during the recent Christmas light-up.

It’s easy to forget these commonplace dispensaries are, in the eyes of the law, criminal. Using medical marijuana is legal for licensed patients, but Health Canada wants to send their medicine by mail order from approved, industrial-scale pot factories — not dispensaries.

Dispensaries disagree. They think patients deserve access to ready-made ointments, oils and butters, as well as staff expertise on how best to use cannabis for its healing benefits. You don’t get that through Canada Post. If the thousands of people signed up as members at Vernon’s five dispensaries are any indication, it appears not all patients are keen on mail-order marijuana either.

Vernon, in particular, appears to have emerged as a hub for the medical marijuana scene, and a pioneer in the movement to expand access for patients. The city has five dispensaries (one is technically a compassion club) plus a commercial-scale grow-operation in the works in nearby Lumby, chaired by former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt. Kelowna, a much larger city, only has three dispensaries, and Kamloops appears to have just two.

One individual involved in the industry told me this week that while Kelowna is known as wine country, Vernon is often referred to as ‘Weed Country’.

How a little town like Vernon rises to the status of Weed Country likely has to do with the local government’s and RCMP’s level of tolerance. Unlike the City of Kelowna — which sources say has been actively blocking medical marijuana enterprises from openingthe City of Vernon has issued several business licenses for compassion clubs and received few complaints.

The RCMP never appeared bothered by them either — until last week when all five dispensaries were warned to shut down. The sheriffs of Weed Country said in a press release their purpose in visiting the businesses was to "outline our concerns and the potential ramifications related to business practices which do not comply with the current Controlled Drugs and Substances Act" and that "possible actions may be taken in the future."

Dispensaries say this is the first time they have ever received a threat from the RCMP. We don’t know what prompted the warning, because the RCMP won’t comment on that specifically. We do know Vernon isn’t the only city in the province facing a crackdown. Dispensaries were raided recently in Sechelt and Nanaimo, where police said they were acting on complaints about illegal marijuana storefronts selling drugs to young people, or to those without prescriptions.

The Vernon RCMP has not said if it's received any complaints about the city’s dispensaries.

It’s possible mounties are trying to discourage the proliferation of dispensaries in Vernon, which, if the current trend continues, would see the industry continue to grow locally. Whatever the case, we know one thing for sure: The outlaws in Weed Country won’t go quietly, and neither will their patients.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
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