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Vancouver going to pot? Public weighing in on dispensary issue    10 06, 2015

Big crowds are expected at a public hearing Wednesday to hash out how Vancouver should deal with an illegal industry that’s budding faster than anyone could have predicted. At least 93 marijuana dispensaries have popped up in the city, surpassing the number of Tim Hortons and even Starbucks locations. Vancouver has proposed reigning in the rapid influx with a number of regulations – the first of their kind in Canada – that are expected to spark much debate at City Hall this week. Almost 90 people are set to weigh in.The president of Weeds Glass & Gifts, a chain of 16 dispensaries, said he and other owners welcome government oversight with open arms. “We want to bring this into the legitimate field,” Don Briere said. “We want to pay proper taxes, we want to make jobs and we want to normalize it. We want to take it out into the open.” That’s not to say he supports the proposed rules as billed, however. Briere said Vancouver’s suggested annual licensing fee of $30,000 is likely prohibitively expensive for many pot business owners. He also would like to see the proposed 300-metre minimum distance between dispensaries and schools or community centres lowered to be more in line with liquor establishments. “I would say that if treated us equally, if we paid the same license fees as an alcohol bar, that would be legitimate and fair,” Briere said. But critics, including the federal government, have cautioned against any attempt to regulate an unambiguously illegal industry. It remains against the law in Canada for dispensaries to sell pot, even for medical purposes. Pamela McColl, a prohibitionist with Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada, said she believes Vancouver has let residents down by failing to crack down on weed shops. She also believes licensing them would be useless because dispensaries, as illegal businesses, still wouldn’t be subject to inspections by health officials. “Vancouver Coastal Health cannot go in there. They cannot break federal law,” McColl said, adding that patients could actually be putting themselves at risk by using pot from dispensaries as medicine. “These are potentially ridden with bacteria, and I think [the city is] doing a terrible, terrible disservice suggesting [licensing them].” The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association has also called on the city to shut down every pot shop. City councillors have defended the move to regulate dispensaries, arguing the rules balance the need for community safety with medical marijuana patients’ right to access their choice of medicine. With files from CTV Vancouver’s Peter Grainger

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