This week, the city of Vancouver finally moved to slow down the exponential growth of illegal medical marijuana dispensaries and regulate where and how they may operate.
Let me say that again: The city has drawn up rules for retail businesses that sell pot, which is by definition drug trafficking and therefore illegal.
It's true something had to be done. These illegal businesses were popping up everywhere – near schools, community centres – sometimes across the street from one other. Some of them look like medical facilities, while others market their products as if they are candy or sugary breakfast cereal – and therefore particularly appealing to young people.
So the city, after taking a close look at Colorado and Washington State, where the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes is legal, decided to draw up some rules of its own.
Among the rules:
No one is allowed to illegally sell their illegal marijuana products near a school or community centre.
Stores that engage in the illegal sale of illegal marijuana products may not be within 300 metres of another store that is illegally doing the same thing.
Applicants must abide by the same city building and zoning bylaws as businesses not selling an illegal substance.
Proprietors (who will by definition be breaking the law the minute they open for business) will be subject to criminal record checks.
Unkempt storefronts will not be tolerated.
The report to council also outlines enforcement actions should any of the dispensaries run afoul of the rules.
Bylaw infractions will result in orders to comply. Failure to comply will result in prosecution.
Life and safety violations – of the fire code, for instance – will be met with a "Do Not Occupy" order.
And here's my favourite: Criminal activity will result in VPD criminal enforcement actions. Which would, of course, mean that as you read this, and even before any new rules go into effect, members of the VPD must be moving in to close every one of the dispensaries in your neighbourhood.
I think you get my point.
"We're regulating the business, not the product," city councillor Kerry Jang told me this week. This is, by the way, the same city councillor who told me two months ago (when there were just 61 dispensaries – not the current 86) that there was no way the city could issue a business licence for an illegal activity. Well, they appear to have cleared that hurdle by adding the words "Marijuana-Related" (preceded by a dash) after the words "Business License." The licensing fee is $30,000.
Mr. Jang also said this week that when the rules are passed, Vancouver will be the only city in Canada to have regulated the sale of medicinal marijuana. He's right. Because selling it out of a storefront anywhere in this country is against the law.
The fact that marijuana is the best medicine for some people is not in dispute. The stuff works for a variety of ailments, and people I know swear it provides relief that other drugs simply do not.
But right now, the threshold for obtaining marijuana as medicine is a farce. At some dispensaries, it requires a consultation with a naturopath via Skype. In others, you pencil in your symptoms for the doctor to "approve" later. Either way, in about 15 minutes, you're walking out the door with some pretty awesome bud.
All of this is the result of changes to legislation governing the use of medical cannabis that the federal government introduced in 2013 – changes that made it illegal to grow your own, or to have a licensed grower do it on your behalf. Those changes are still the subject of a court challenge – thus the free-for-all.
But many users say the new system does not work. They have complained it's slow, onerous and expensive, and doesn't provide them with extracts or tinctures or any product beyond dried marijuana, which may not work for them.
So you can either applaud the city of Vancouver for taking a stand (however tenuous), or you can endorse the point of view of Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who said in a scolding letter to the mayor, "Marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine and Health Canada does not endorse its use." She continues, "Legitimizing and normalizing the use and sale of marijuana can have only one effect: increasing marijuana use and addiction."
So yeah, you know, whatever.
Also, full disclosure: I am super high right now.
It's cool; I have a note.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.