British Columbia

Vancouver pot smokers have mixed experiences after legalization

B.C. still only has one licensed cannabis store, leaving dozens of Vancouver shops in limbo, with customers patronizing those willing to work outside the new legal regime.

B.C. still only has one licensed cannabis store, leaving dozens of Vancouver shops in limbo

A pile of cannabis buds sit on a table at Weeds in Vancouver. The store is one of several that is continuing to serve customers after nation-wide legalization prompted many Vancouver dispensaries to close, pending provincial licenses. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Darius Cain, 19, inhales a large amount of smoke from the cannabis concentrate "shatter" at a Weeds shop in Vancouver. The hit leaves him a little glassy-eyed and very cheerful.

Last Wednesday — when cannabis became legal across the country — was Cain's first visit to the dispensary. He's been back every day or two since.

On Monday, he wasn't buying anything to take home, just enjoying the shatter — what's known as "dabs."

"Just dabs and that's it, then I go back home and have a nap, wake back up and that's it," said Cain. "Just a simple life."

Cain is finding what he's looking for in the Vancouver dispensary market, but it's outside the bounds of the new laws, and for many in Vancouver, legalization has actually made cannabis harder to get. 

Most shops have closed while license applications are processed by provincial and local governments.

'We're taking a big risk'

Weeds has closed several stores across the country, but four in Vancouver remain open. None has a local development permit to operate, and, at the Richards Street location, there's a shatter consumption lounge (which falls outside the provincial law), edibles are for sale (which is also not permitted at this time), and cannabis can be bought without a medical pretext.

"We have a lot to lose. We're taking a big risk, but we have thousands and thousands of customers we're serving here," said Weeds co-owner Carol Gwilt on Monday.

"I guess we're activists, rather than people just in it for business purposes We're activists. We've been at this for a long time."

Cannabis smokers in Vancouver report things getting more difficult since legalization, while others say they're finding accessible local weed sources. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Across town in Kitsilano, things are a little more frustrating for people trying to partake in the legal pot market.

"Our two local spots we used to go to are shut down. There's a new place that we started going to, but it's a bit of a trek away, So we found out this place is nearby," said Liam Diman when he popped into Evergreen Cannabis Society.

But Diman was rebuffed there too. Evergreen is open for business, but it cleared out all of its cannabis products last week. The shop is only selling accessories until its applications are approved.

According to owner Mike Babins, about 30 people come in the door each day, and nearly all leave disappointed, unless they were after vaporizers, pipes or rolling papers.

'Playing by the rules'

He sends people to the government's website. Babins said his experience online was smooth and the weed was delivered promptly.

"I thought there were quite a few of us playing by the rules and I've seen a lot of them aren't," said Babins. "There are other stores that have the same [license application] sign in the window as us, and they're selling unlicensed cannabis today."

On Robson Street, business is bustling at Vancity Weed. An application sign is posted, but a customer leaving the store said it's easy to buy cannabis there if you're willing to register as a medical user.

Some Vancouver dispensaries are continuing to serve customers, despite the lack of a provincial licence. (David Horemans/CBC)

Matt Pagani stopped in to buy a pre-rolled joint, but said they were out. He said he still has a traditional drug dealer if his supply gets low but he's finding some shops that are willing to keep selling.

"It's still very easily accessible — it's just not across the street anymore," said Pagani. "[It's] mildly inconvenient. I have to stop being lazy for 10 minutes."

Under provincial law, anyone not buying from the Kamloops store is expected to purchase legal weed on the government's website until private retailers are licensed.

The B.C. government reported 9,137 online orders in the first 24 hours of operation. The Kamloops store recorded 795 transactions on day one.


Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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