New pot law won’t change VPD approach to illegal dispensaries
Vancouver police aren’t planning a mass crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries to enforce new federal pot rules taking effect April 1, the department confirmed Wednesday.
The strict regulations will require medical marijuana permit-holders to obtain pot exclusively via mail from approved growers, and ban them from owning their own plants.
Const. Brian Montague said the strict new rules won’t change the status of the roughly 30 dispensaries in Vancouver, however, because they've been operating illegally from the start.
“The law that’s being changed doesn’t directly affect dispensaries,” Montague said. “It’s safe to say there’s no big changes expected in how we practice in Vancouver.”
The department doesn’t currently consider dispensaries a priority for its limited drug enforcement resources, instead focusing on violent traffickers, dealers preying on marginalized members of the community, and people trafficking harder drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth.
However, police have closed three dispensaries in the past and will continue to do so when appropriate.
“Our priorities are elsewhere but the tolerance only goes so far, and if a dispensary starts working in a manner that is detrimental to public safety then incremental steps will be taken to deal with it,” Montague said.
Dispensaries can find themselves in hot water if they generate neighbourhood complaints, sell pot to non-permit holders, or have connections to violent gangs.
Operators as well as staff potentially face criminal charges including marijuana possession and trafficking, according to police.
Health Canada’s new medical pot regulations have been widely criticized by patients who note purchasing the drug is exponentially more expensive than growing it.
Doctors also criticize the law for forcing patients to obtain what amounts to a prescription for pot, which many physicians feel is unethical to provide since the drug isn’t properly tested.
The federal government has argued the current system is rife with abuse and safety issues, noting that home grow operations burn down 24 time more frequently than average homes.
When it comes to dispensaries, Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang said ensuring patients have access to marijuana takes precedent over the new regulations, however.
“We know that marijuana is a very good treatment for pain, and the new laws that are coming April 1 will actually stop people from getting access,” Jang said.
“We’ve not turned a blind eye,” he added. “We will investigate any kind of complaint or any kind of irregularity, and we will make sure they’re run professionally.”
The number of people authorized to possess or grow pot under Canada’s Marihuana Medical Access Program has grown from 500 people to more than 26,000 over the last decade.