British Columbia

Medical marijuana dispensaries spread like weeds in Vancouver

More than 60 dispensaries are now open in Vancouver after a federal law change last year, but the city isn't getting many complaints about them.

More than 60 dispensaries open in Vancouver after April 1 law change

It seems like medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up like weeds in the City of Vancouver, and they're spreading to nearly every part of the city.

Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang estimates there are 61 medicinal marijuana dispensaries, at least 40 of which have opened since April 1, 2014 when a new federal law meant medical marijuana users could no longer grow their own pot, but instead must buy from a licensed vendor.

"It's like Starbucks. When there's a demand for a product, they're going to open up wherever that demand is," he told The Early Edition.

However, he said it's difficult get an exact count because the city doesn't have a business licence category for a medical marijuana dispensary.

"The problem is that we as a city cannot create a bylaw that might contravene a higher law either by the province or the federal government."

Two shops closed after police investigations

The Vancouver Police Department says it often receives complaints when marijuana dispensaries open, but not all are serious.

"We do get a lot of complaints with regards to just the fact the business is their neighbourhood ... 'Not In My Backyard" is a common complaint," Cst. Brian Montague told The Early Edition.

Police investigate when there are criminal allegations, such involvement with organized crime. Last July, the VPD raided a medical marijuana shop in East Vancouver after reports it was selling pot to minors.

"We have to prioritize our policing," Cst. Brian Montague told The Early Edition.

"For the most part [our] priority is drug dealers that are violent, but that doesn't mean a business like this can't become a priority if public safety becomes a concern, and selling to youths and individuals without a licence can be a public safety concern."

Montague estimates that since April 1, complaints have lead to six investigations in which charges were recommended.

In two instances the businesses were shut down. The others are still before crown counsel.

Few complaints to city

Jang says that the city receives surprisingly few complaints about medical marijuana dispensaries.

I get more complaints about a winter shelter...than I do about a medical marijuana shop.- Kerry Jang, Vancouver city councillor

"I think there's very few Vancouverites who actually have a problem with the pot shops," said Jang.

"I'm kind of surprised by the lack of complaints. I get more complaints about a winter shelter in the wintertime trying to save people's lives than I do about a medical marijuana shop."

In order to buy medical marijuana from a dispensary, a client must be at least 19 years old and receive a doctor's approval before being issued a membership.

Some dispensaries, like the 18-year-old BC Compassion Club Society, say they adhere to strict guidelines when it comes to accepting new members.

Other dispensaries advertise quick approval — sometimes onsite — and some even offer free samples.

To hear more about what the increase in marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver, click the audio labelled: Medical marijuana dispensaries pop up like weeds.


Margaret Gallagher is the reporter for On the Coast and the host of Hot Air on CBC Radio One.