Should Vancouver license marijuana dispensaries?

The City of Vancouver is considering licencing the growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries in that municipality. The federal government objects, but Vancouver's chief medical health officer says regulation is needed.
Marijuana is weighed at a medical marijuana dispensary, in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

There are about 80 medical marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver right now, shop-front outlets, where "members" can purchase pot.

In 2010 there were only four of them.

Because these dispensaries are opening in so many locations, the city of Vancouver wants to regulate the businesses by restricting where a they can open, and imposing a hefty licensing fee. 

Federal government opposed

The federal government, however, is against the plan. It says instead of regulating the businesses, Vancouver should shut them down. It has sent two letters to the City of Vancouver to make its opposition known.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose told the CBC she believes that granting licenses to the operations would give them an air of legitimacy, and instead the city should shut them down.

Dr. Patricia Daly, the Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, says the federal government needs to recognize its own role in the proliferation of these unregulated marijuana dispensaries.

Change needed to national approach

Daly says federal regulations left doctors as the gatekeepers for who could access marijuana, a role which made many physicians "uncomfortable" in the absence of approved guidelines. Additionally, a change to the rules about who can grow marijuana for medical use opened up the market for those who could no longer legally grow their own product.

If Ottawa is truly concerned about preventing the harm associated with marijuana use among youth, and I support that concern, I would ask them to sit down with experts around the country to look at a new approach.- Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health

"As a public health physician I'm concerned primarily with reducing any harm associated with marijuana use, particularly among youth," she says. "I also do support people who have medical reasons for accessing marijuana to have access to it." 

"I think the best way to meet those two goals, is to actually legalize marijuana and regulate it. Now the City of Vancouver can't legalize Marijuana, only the federal government can do that, but they can move forward to regulate the medical marijuana dispensaries that have grown up over the last two years."