Daphne Bramham: Easier to buy a joint in Vancouver than a loaf of bread

published on May 31, 2015 by Daphne Bramham in The Vancouver Sun

City’s plan to regulate marijuana shops is a farce

My local dry cleaner is gone, replaced by one of the more than half a dozen “medical marijuana dispensaries” within a 10-minute walk from my home.

In another neighbourhood, a friend says it’s easier to get a joint than buy a loaf of bread or a litre of milk.

At last count, Vancouver had 84 cannabis stores. There’s one block in Granville Street’s entertainment district has two.

There are so many pot shops along many of the main streets that it’s almost impossible to believe that cannabis is illegal in Canada.

Their signboards are set out on sidewalks. Their posters are on utility poles. Some run ads in weekly newspapers.

Last month, city manager Penny Ballem made a presentation to council recommending that Vancouver regulate these shops. In it, Ballem – a medical doctor – quoted “research” that cannabis provides relief from chronic pain, antiretroviral therapy-related nausea, multiple sclerosis, symptoms of bipolar disorder, ADHD as well as “harm reduction for drug users” as a substitute for more harmful drugs, to reduce opioid mortality and relief from withdrawal symptoms.

But most of those claims are unproven, according to Dr. Evan Wood, medical director for addiction services at Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care.

“Medical cannabis is the victim of a lack of research,” he said.

Wood supports the city’s plan to regulate the dispensaries. But he notes that the edible products sold in many dispensaries are a “totally different thing” from dried cannabis that is smoked and are “very, very dangerous.”

It’s extraordinary to think that this city’s leaders ever thought that it was a good thing to have illegal stores operating without business licenses selling illegal drugs supplied by illegal, unregulated growers.

Now, after a fourfold increase in the number of shops in less than three years, it’s clear the genie is not easily going back in the bottle.

Nearly two-thirds of the existing shops don’t comply with the proposed regulations because of proximity to schools, community centres, neighbourhood houses and other pot-related businesses.

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