North Vancouver marijuana dispensary to open despite opposition

A North Vancouver medical marijuana activist says he will open a cannabis dispensary in Deep Cove this weekend despite efforts by the municipality to quash his plans. Re-Leaf Dispensary society will begin selling the drug to licensed users from a new outlet at 4266 Mount Seymour Parkway at 10 a.m. Saturday, according to Ken Starr, the non-profit group’s founder and president. The declaration comes just days after the District of North Vancouver began passage of a bylaw aimed specifically at preventing the dispensary’s operation. The municipal regulation passed first reading at a special meeting of district council June 3, five days after Starr’s intentions became public in a front-page story in the North Shore News. The new rule would prohibit “the sale, distribution, trade or dispensing of cannabis and its preparations, derivatives and similar synthetic preparations, except as authorized under . . . applicable federal legislation” within municipal boundaries.

Since the Re-Leaf dispensary isn’t licensed — Health Canada only issues legal exemptions to medical users and some small-scale growers — the bylaw effectively bans it from the district. The rule won’t come into effect until next week at the earliest. It still needs to be discussed at a Tuesday public hearing and pass two more readings before it can be enacted. Typically, municipal bylaws are not enforced retroactively. Non-complying zoning or businesses that predate a bylaw are considered “grandfathered.” Starr said he plans to operate anyway, since he feels the proposed ban is unjustified.

“If you look in the neighbourhoods where all the other dispensaries are, there have been no increases in criminal behaviour,” he said. “I think people should have access to the medicine; I think it should be in every community.” As a non-profit society, the dispensary won’t need a business licence from the district, he added. But district Coun. Roger Bassam said the municipality had to step in because of the impact the dispensary would have on the surrounding neighbourhood. A staff report issued to council ahead of last week’s meeting raised the spectre of increased noise, traffic, loitering, crime and drug trafficking in the event the shop was allowed to open.

The district has received more than 175 emails from residents opposed to the dispensary — versus just two voicing support — since the News article ran, said Bassam. “People just aren’t comfortable with that sort of a business opening up in what is essentially a residential community,” he said. “If there were a bona fide need for medical marijuana in the District of North Vancouver . . . I would think Vancouver Coastal Health would be on it.” Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer for Re-Leaf whose practice revolves largely around medical marijuana cases, says it’s not the municipality’s place to try to prevent the dispensary’s operation. Questions around the distribution of marijuana fall under criminal law, he said, and as such are the purview of the federal government.

What’s more, the district’s arguments against its opening are spurious, added Tousaw. “It’s fear mongering and NIMBY-ism,” he said. “There’s no reason to suggest that a dispensary for medical marijuana is going to cause associated community problems any more than a pharmacy, which every single day of the week dispenses much more dangerous and much more valuable and much more addictive products to people without any of those kinds of issues.” If the police investigate and move to shut it down, Tousaw is prepared to fight for the dispensary’s continued operation in court, he said.

“Let’s not fool ourselves,” said Tousaw. “There are plenty of people who sell marijuana on the black market in the District of North Vancouver. . . . That’s not where you want to send your grandmother to purchase medicine; you want a safe and supportive environment, and that’s what a compassion club is. It’s a better option. It’s an option that can bring a lot of positive benefits to the community if people would just open their eyes and their hearts a little bit.” Looking ahead to Saturday’s planned opening, Starr said he was nervous. “This is all a little overwhelming for me personally,” he said. “I’m extremely saddened and confused by the opposition I’ve heard so far. . . . There are a lot of sick people on the North Shore who can’t easily travel across town to get their medicine.”

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