Despite a Supreme Court ruling ensuring marijuana patients' right to eat their medicine, the City of Vancouver is refusing to reconsider a proposed ban on edible cannabis, which has emerged as one of the most controversial parts of its plan to regulate booming retail pot shops.
At a packed City Hall Wednesday night, most of the roughly 160 speakers at the first public hearing urged politicians not to restrict the practice of selling edible marijuana under the new rules. The majority of Vancouver's pot shops make money selling edibles products that are not allowed under the federal medical marijuana system that only provides dried cannabis.
The Supreme Court decision allowing different forms of medical marijuana has no jurisdiction over Vancouver's 94 dispensaries, which both operate and procure their products illegally. But it is likely to embolden advocates that claim sick Canadians should have easy access to edibles they argue are safer and more effective than smoking the drug.
An official city statement issued Thursday afternoon, addressed the judges' decision and echoed what officials had told those pushing edibles at the public hearing the night before.
"Edible products are being sold in the form of candies and baked goods, which appeal to children," the statement said. "Evidence in the U.S. is that wider availability of these products is causing increased poisonings in children, and we want to prevent this from occurring here in Vancouver.
"Unregulated edible products also pose a greater risk to adults than other forms of marijuana."
City staff did recommend allowing one type of edible product: cannabis oils they said wouldn't appeal to young users.
Before the speakers Wednesday night, Vancouver's chief medical officer Patricia Daly told council that as long as edibles aren't overseen by Health Canada, they won't have reliable information on their dose and potency in their packaging and will continue to be too risky to allow in the stores. To underscore this, she presented statistics that showed two-thirds of the 63 people sent to the emergency room with marijuana intoxication during this year's downtown 4/20 pot party had eaten at least some form of cannabis.
Dr. Daly said it is "clearly demonstrated in the [medical] literature that marijuana does affect brain development if used heavily in adolescents" and that more educational outreach must be funded to teach kids about the dangers of pot.
Kirk Tousaw, the lawyer who represented Owen Smith in the Supreme Court edibles case, told council that Vancouver should take the approach of Colorado and Washington states, where edible products face safety monitoring during preparation, child-proof containers and strict labelling guidelines.
He said the risks are not as high as stated by the medical establishment. He acknowledged that edibles do "take a little trial and error – as with all medicines" before people get the correct dosage, but said they offer a much better alternative for prolonged pain relief compared to smoking pot, which patients must inhale "on an almost continuous basis."
Under the current law, all of the dispensaries in Vancouver are illegal – whether they are selling dried marijuana or any other form – but that hasn't prevented the city from looking for ways to exert control. Public pressure on the city to regulate the dispensaries in some way has mounted over the past several years, as the number of pot shops has risen exponentially from just 14 in 2012.
The city is considering creating a special licence category for "marijuana-related" businesses, including dispensaries, and rules that include a $30,000 yearly licensing fee as well as mandating that these shops be located at least 300 metres away from schools, community centres and neighbourhood houses. The shops would also be banned on side streets, on Chinatown's historic Pender Street, downtown's Granville Strip entertainment area and in most areas of the Downtown Eastside, except on Main and Hastings streets.