Marijuana is being openly sold in specialty stores in Vancouver under the guise of a government-approved system meant to limit sales for medical use only, a documentary by the CBC's fifth estate shows. 

Medical marijuana has been legally sold in Canada since 2001 under strict government guidelines and only under authorization from a physician.

But the fifth estate’s Mark Kelley found that in Vancouver these days the drug is readily available in medical marijuana dispensaries, where a quick consultation with a nurse or a naturopath gets people a membership and access to as much marijuana as they want.

After a consultation that took just 65 seconds, for example, Kelley was given a membership at one such dispensary where he could buy marijuana as a way to relieve stress.

The dispensaries are illegal, but Vancouver City Police have said they will ignore them unless they sell to minors or create a nuisance.

First Nations medical marijuana

Medical marijuana has been legally sold in Canada since 2001 under strict government guidelines and only under authorization from a physician. But the fifth estate found that in Vancouver these days the drug is readily available in medical marijuana dispensaries. (CBC)

The dispensary business in Vancouver is booming. There are now nearly 60, more than the number of Tim Hortons in that city. 

Chuck Varabioff, owner of Canada’s first marijuana vending machine, says it has grossed more than $1 million since he set it up last May.

The legal medical marijuana market has also grown rapidly since the federal government revamped the rules last year. It has since licensed 15 legal big-box grow ops for the medical marijuana market. Investors have poured tens of millions of dollars into the industry.

The staggering amount of money flowing into the marijuana business has many thinking legalization here in Canada might be a hard train to stop.

Benedikt Fischer, a criminologist and expert in substance use, says for all intents and purposes, marijuana might as well already be legal: "We have in Canada an emerging situation of de-facto cannabis legalization under the veil of medicalization."

Watch the fifth estate's investigation, Pot Fiction.