In June 2015, Vancouver’s municipal government took the bold action to bring in licensing requirements for the nearly 100 marijuana dispensaries that have opened up in the city.

This is a bold move because, first off, marijuana is still illegal in Canada unless you are part of the federal government’s medical marijuana program as a patient or licensed producer. Secondly, Vancouver is the first city in Canada to openly question the Feds’ stance on cannabis and take a position against it; even going so far as putting the blame on the Harper Conservatives, right where it belongs in this writer’s opinion, for creating the problem in the first place.

City Council have adopted recommendations from the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as a guideline for marijuana reform and have approved a proposal to create a special licence category for ‘marijuana-related businesses’, including dispensaries. The rules will create a system to consult the community before granting licences, will impose a licence fee of $30,000 a year, and will prohibit dispensaries from operating within 300 metres of schools, community centres or other dispensaries. Non-profit compassion clubs will only pay $1,000 for the licence and may be given priority in cases where a group of dispensaries are too close together. Edible capsules, tinctures, and oils will be allowed, but edible products such as cookies will not due to concerns they could appeal to children. So-called vapour lounges and cannabis cafes are already prohibited under the city’s anti-smoking bylaw and the city says it will be more aggressively enforcing those rules. The city will also reject licence applications from dispensaries that allow smoking or vaping on-site.

To open the meeting the proposed regulations were presented by two people from the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. As a courtesy City Council then heard from a Vancouver School Board trustee. Unfortunately, he was soon caught up in vague statements and even misrepresented the VSB committee he was speaking for. When asked by a council member what board members were on the committee he ‘couldn’t recall’ even though they’d last met only a week before. One of the Council was once a school board trustee herself and was obviously no stranger to the doublespeak and sleight of hand being performed.

A four-part video of the exchange starts here:

It was clear that the city had done a fair bit of homework before these proceedings.

Over ninety people signed up to be heard and on the first night of hearings it was a packed house. There were lots of media present and speakers ready to have their say, including lawyer Kirk Tousaw, fresh from his Supreme Court of Canada unanimous decision win in the Owen Smith extracts case. That win clearly concerned some council members: the recommendation to ban edibles was made before the SCC announcement, which could open the door to further litigation, this time against the city if edibles are considered a form of cannabis extract.

Kirk Tousaw, speaking to city council, can be seen here (starting about the 2:17 mark):

Rob Laurie, council from Ad Lucem legal firm, was also there to speak. Here’s what he had to say:

Many others besides legal counsel came to voice their opinion. Activists — including well-known names like Ajia Moon, Dana Larson, and Rielle Capler, to name just a few — and patients, compassion club employees, and even a few concerned citizens spoke out against all or part of the proposed plan.

Ajia Moon spoke just after yours truly, and we said this:

One young man represented SAM — Smart Approaches to Marijuana is a loose knit group of a half dozen or so, with a listed board member who’s deceased, which was created by anti-smoking turned anti-pot crusader Pamela McColl — and wanted to make it clear the city was breaking the law by holding these hearings. A small handful of others were not too happy with the city’s plan, but overall most participants were very pleased to be finally having an adult conversation about marijuana and how to distribute it.

The hearings dragged on for three nights, with most people questioning the $30,000 yearly fee and/or the ban on edibles. One other thing that didn’t often alter was thanking the city for holding these hearings and starting a long overdue discussion.

Change is constant and these public hearings are just the beginning of the change that’s coming. The question is, when will we have a federal government that will work with informed change, not just fight it? Experience tells me when you resist social advancement the outcome is always the same: you get left behind.

On October 19th get out and vote for freedom, not fear, Canada.