Reefer madness

City councillors are allegedly getting threatened because of the recent enforcement of new marijuana dispensary regulations. What gives?

May 3, 2016

By Max Fawcett / Photo: Max Fawcett

So much for the image of the average marijuana aficionado as a laid-back, perpetually blissed out pacifist. Kerry Jang, the Vancouver city councillor who’s taking the point on the crackdown on unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries, has received threats to him and his family because of his public stance on the issue—presumably from agitated members of this city’s pro-pot community. And while it’s a lesser order of threat, somebody changed Jang’s Wikipedia page in order to describe him as a “Canadian prohibitionist” who currently serves as “an ignoramus on the Greater Vancouver Regional District Board.” 

It shouldn’t be too surprising that he’s gotten their backs up. After all, the city is cracking down on all of the marijuana dispensaries that had sprouted up throughout the city like, well, weeds. And as Jodie Emery, the unofficial spokesperson for Vancouver’s pro-pot community, told AM 730, “these businesses are doing no harm, they’re providing a service, they have the support of the public, they’re employing people.” Indeed, on the very same day that the city announced it was cracking down on the swelling supply of marijuana dispensaries in town, Emery announced the opening of Cannibis Culture, an “activist-owned” dispensary at 512 Beatty Street.

But while Emery has suggested that the outrage among her community is due to the prospect of people with a legitimate medical need for marijuana being denied access to the stuff, Jang thinks it’s much more about dollars and cents. “I think a lot of them are just upset that they raked in a lot of money, probably didn’t pay taxes, probably didn’t have any regulation involved, and it’s the end of the wild west. And that’s what they’re upset about.” He’s not buying the idea that the regulations being applied by the city will harm those with a legitimate and medically-defensible need for marijuana. “We’d have access for people who need medical marijuana. So far, we have a good number that are going through the process and who will most likely get a licence.” 

Jang says that of the 176 applications that have come in, 140 were rejected due to their proximity to schools, community centres, or other marijuana dispensaries, concerns about the proposed location’s adherence to building and fire safety codes, or red flags in the applicant’s background check. Now, the ones that made it past that screen are going through the development permit process, and he says that will produce a handful of fully-regulated dispensaries in the city. “If we had 20 shops get through this first round, that would seem like a reasonable number to me to start off with. And the market will take care of itself after that. If there’s a greater demand, then more shops will open. And if there’s a lower demand, people will go out of business.”

What happens to those who haven’t applied for a permit, either because of indifference or defiance? Well, Jang says, they’re going to start to get hit with fines—ones that start at $250 a day but can quickly escalate up to $10,000. He says city workers will also begin to collect the evidence needed to seek a court injunction to close them, if it comes to that. But he doesn’t have much sympathy for those who are claiming that the city is acting unfairly or without respect for due process. “This is what they asked for. They wanted this. And in that sense, I told them early on—be careful what you wish for. We gave them six months—six months to find an alternate location. And that’s pretty good. Some have. Some haven’t. And the ones who are grousing now are probably the ones who didn’t even bother trying.”

And while Emery and other local activists have criticized the city for moving forward with the regulation of dispensaries when federal legislation legalizing marijuana appears to be in the offing, Jang says it can’t afford to wait that long. “That’s a year away. And it’ll take another year to get through parliament and get enacted, so that’s two years. As I see it, in these next two years if we don’t continue with our bylaw we’ll have an explosion of pot shops—again, like we did before. We went from seven to over 100 in the span of a few months in Vancouver, so this is how we’re going to manage that eventuality. When the federal rules come out, we’ll adjust our bylaws to be consistent with them.”

But Jang, who’s unambiguously supportive of any federal legislation that would legalize the possession of pot in Canada, thinks that the resistance he’s faced on this issue is less about principles than profits. “It’s really not about cannibis culture and rights—it’s about making money. And that’s why federal legislation is absolutely important, because it makes sure there’s a tax regime in place and regulations in place so it can be managed and taxed appropriately.” 

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