Political pot donations sign of 'normalized' industry: advocate
A juvenile plant at Bedrocan Canada, a medical marijuana facility, in Toronto on Monday, August 17, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
As the money starts flowing in the beginnings of a legal marijuana industry, it’s clear some lobbying firms and political parties are seeing green.
Political donations have started coming from medical marijuana dispensaries to one municipal party, Vision Vancouver - and provincial and federal leaders have also been targeted by lobbying efforts, a CTV News review has found.
“It’s almost like we’re being normalized as an industry,” said longtime marijuana activist Jodie Emery. “Political donations, paying lobbyists – that’s the way everything else seems to be done, so we’re bringing marijuana into the fold.”
In Vancouver, three dispensaries donated to Vision Vancouver – Med Pot Now Society gave $2,500, Eden Medicinal Society gave $1,750, and Vancouver Dispensary Society gave $2,500.
The Med Pot Now Society has just received its development permit – one step towards getting a business licence, said MPN manager Gemma Zimmel.
“The city acknowledging it as a business makes more people comfortable about it in the neighbourhood,” said Zimmel from the sleekly designed storefront on Kingsway near Knight Street.
Zimmel said the non-profit society was not intending to donate, but found that others were spending money and didn’t want to be left out.
“There were quite a few dispensaries that participated so we did it as a group,” she said. “We still had to live up to a high standard.”
Unlike MPN, the other two donors have not had development permits approved. Eden Medicinal has made it to the second stage of the city's process, doing business as Apple Health and Scooter Health Society. Vancouver Dispensary Society did not make the cut. Six dispensaries have been granted development permits so far, but no one has received a licence. One has been rejected.
That has Vision Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang defending the process as fair.
“There was no special treatment. Just that we would start a dialogue that would move the national agenda, and that’s what we’ve done,” Jang said.
No one from Eden Medicinal Society or the Vancouver Dispensary Society returned calls from CTV News.
The NPA’s Melissa De Genova said she had not heard of these donations before – and would have some questions about it.
“I’m very interested to know if there were conversations between Vision Vancouver and these dispensaries,” she said.
Vision appears to be the only party accepting pot money outright. De Genova said she wasn’t aware of any similar donations to the NPA.
And donations from corporations or societies are prohibited at the federal and provincial levels.
But “Big Marijuana” has hired lobbyists, according to the lobbyist registries – there are 85 entries regarding lobbyist contacts with federal Liberals to do with marijuana, and seven contacts with B.C. Liberals.
One of those lobbyists was Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella, who was representing a Surrey hydroponics company.
MPN says it doesn’t believe it’s received any benefit from the donation, and Zimmel said she supported the changes Vision proposed.