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British Columbia Vancouver’s stance on pot is enough to make you dazed and confused

If you're having a hard time following Vancouver's position on marijuana – recreational or otherwise – you're not alone.

On the same day the city allowed an unsanctioned and unpermited 4/20 event to take place on Sunset Beach, as well as a smaller event that shut down Robson Street, Councillor Kerry Jang was talking tough about shuttering the vast majority of the city's medicinal marijuana outlets.

April 29 is the city-imposed deadline for medical marijuana dispensaries that don't comply with new minimum distance rules and other requirements. Since the city moved to regulate and grant business licences to the shops, it has received 176 applications – from both existing dispensaries and others hoping to set up shop. So far, just 13 dispensaries have been granted conditional approval. In addition, the B.C. Compassion Club, which has been at the corner of Commercial Drive and 14th Avenue since 1997, won the unanimous approval of the Board of Variance this week. It will be allowed to remain at its current location despite its close proximity to two schools.

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As for the ones that may be forced to close, Mr. Jang said in an interview, "they've all been given letters, they all know. Maybe they didn't think we were serious about it."

Mr. Jang says the city will wait until the deadline passes, then see who is still open. "We'll start looking at some fines for example that range from a few hundred dollars a day to up to $10,000 a day and in extreme cases we have no problem going to seek court injunctions."

This is the same Kerry Jang who 14 months ago said there was no way for the city to regulate the dispensaries because what they were doing was illegal; then, two months later when regulations were introduced, said with a straight face: "We're regulating the business, not the product."

Complicating matters was the announcement this week by federal Health Minister Jane Philpott that, next spring, the government will begin legalizing marijuana for recreational use in order to, in her words, "keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of organized criminals."

With the legalization of pot now within reach, cannabis advocates want a moratorium on marijuana-related arrests so people in possession of small amounts of weed aren't saddled with criminal records for something that is about to be legal.

Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who drew the short straw and ended up with the marijuana file on his desk, has said that, until new legislation is in place, marijuana is still illegal and the laws will still be enforced. "It's a complex issue," he told Parliament in February.

He's got that right. Vancouver-Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry apparently thinks possession is legal. "If you're using it for personal use and you're actually using it then I don't think that's criminal activity," Ms. Fry told me this week.

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I'm not sure what Ms. Fry is referring to, but simple possession of even a small amount of marijuana is still a criminal offence that carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine or six months in jail or both. Maybe she's talking about the varying levels of enthusiasm police apply when enforcing the law.

To cloud matters further, we have the Federal Court ruling in February that struck down the ban on medical marijuana users growing their own at home.

No doubt all of this has emboldened and the already-entitled cannabis crusaders – the same ones who invite thousands of people to smoke on a beach where smoking is prohibited, sell their weed and wares and leave piles of garbage behind for city workers to clean up without having to pay a dime for it.

What I can predict with some degree of comfort is that, whatever the federal legislation looks like for recreational use, the 4/20 types will declare it too restrictive and complain that it is taking too long to enact.

And if what is finally arrived at is deemed too restrictive or too corporate, expect a parallel industry to emerge. One where pot entrepreneurs open up storefronts to sell cannabis and derivatives of unknown provenance in all of their glorious forms.

The city will send out some letters I'm sure.

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Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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