A wave of new compassion clubs and dispensarys helping many…and bothering very few
Nestled between the coastal mountains and the City of Vancouver, on the shores of the Fraser River, stands the town of Maple Ridge. With a population of nearly 69,000, Maple Ridge is like any other town in Canada, with one exceptional difference that puts the community in the big leagues with cities like Victoria, Vancouver, and Montreal.
On May 3, the not for profit The Always Green Growing Society (TAGGS) opened its doors to the community’s first Medical Marijuana Dispensary, offering marijuana to those with MMAR cards, and referrals.
The dispensary was welcomed by those in outlying communities who previously had to make the long, and sometimes painful, drive into Vancouver to access marijuana dispensing services.
Before the open house, TAGGS volunteers knocked on doors in the neighbourhood explaining who they were and why they were there.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the neighbourhood and nobody has prob- lems with it,” Michael Joinson, the society’s founder and president told the Maple Ridge News. “We are not in one of the best neigh- bourhoods in Maple Ridge, anyway. You can’t make it worse. In fact, we are hoping to make it better.”
Already, they have cleaned up the neighbourhood, by patching up and giving new life to the 60 year old single family home standing at 11696–224th St.
“I think it’s about time something like this happened in Maple Ridge because marijuana is a great medical herb,” Dale Sharp, one of the first to walk through TAGGS doors, told the Maple Ridge News. He uses marijuana to treat epilepsy and glaucoma.
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Davkin’s initial response was not nearly so welcoming. “I’m Po’d,” Mayor Davkin was quoted by the Maple Ridge News on May 3 when the society opened its doors for an open house, announcing themselves to the community. “It’s not something I want in our community,” he continued.
Others were also upset by the dispensary’s sudden appearance and location. Tyler Ducharme, who spearheaded the now-defunct Maple Ridge Coalition of Concerned Citizens, called the location “odd.” “In principal, I don’t have an issue with the idea at all, but once again the community has been given no input until after all the decisions have been made,” Ducharme told the News.
In the middle of may, Michael Joinson, TAGGS President; Dana Larson, Director; and Jacob Hunter, WhyProhibition founder; had a meeting with Mayor Davkin and other representatives of the district. They explained to the mayor how dispensaries work in Vancouver, and how the MMAR is not filling the needs of patients who require marijuana as a medicine.
The Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) only allow two methods for patients to acquire their medicine. The first is to purchase it from the government. The product grown by Prairie Plant Systems, a Saskatchewan company, has been widely criticized. They offer only the single strain, and grind they entire plant down for patient use. Dispensaries, on the other hand, offer a full selection of strains, baked goods, lotions, creams, oils, and extracts. The second method for patients to access their medication is to grow it themselves, or have someone grow it for them.
“In Ernie’s perfect world, it would be dispensed from a pharmacy just like all other medicine,” the Mayor told Maple Ridge News on May 13, after the meeting. “We need to look at what the outcome of all our research is,” he added. “We are not heartless. We are the ones who are closest to the action. We get the phone calls and we have no way of regulating it.”
The RCMP who are on contract to police the community of Maple Ridge, was also surprised when TAGGS opened its doors. “We have in no way been advised of this fledgling service,” Supt. Dave Walsh told the Maple Ridge News on TAGGS’s opening day. “If they have federal authorization, Ridge Meadows RCMP has no jurisdiction to prevent them from running the dispensary. If they don’t have the authorization, they will be dealt with like every other citizen and charged with trafficking in a controlled substance.”
By May 14, Joinson and TAGGS supporters had collected over 150 names on a petition in support of the not-for-profit, as well as having over 30 members qualified to receive services.
On June 22, the Maple Ridge Times reports that the RCMP are “con- tinuing to work with the department of Justice, Health Canada, our RCMP legal services. It is an issue not just in Maple Ridge but across the Lower Mainland… and Canada,” said Walsh in his report to council.
In the meantime, Maple Ridge council had sent Randy Kamp, Conservative MP for the area, and Health Canada asking them to ensure that all marijuana license holders are following provincial, federal, and local laws.
Health Canada was asked for evidence of the impact of the shop on Maple Ridge, such as the increased workload faced by the bylaws department, police, or fire departments. Interestingly, neither the city or the RCMP have had any complaints about TAGGS since its opening.
Randy Kamp’s response has been swift, calling for TAGGS closure. “It seems to me the law is pretty clear these organizations are operating outside the law and my position has always been we have to enforce the law or change it, not ignore it.” Kamp told Coquitlam Now on June 1.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring community of Pitt Meadows is already taking steps to prevent marijuana grows from being set up within its borders. In the beginning of July they had the second reading of a land use amendment that would prevent “grow-ops” from being classified as a home based business, as well as ensuring that marijuana grows are excluded as an agricultural use. Pitt Meadows Council wants the land use amendment forwarded to municipalities across Canada so they can implement the same tool.
“If we all have the same bylaw, where are these poor folks going to go?” Mayor Don MacLean was quoted by the Maple Ridge News. While the amendment would not disallow patients growing for their own personal use, it would not allow someone to grow Cannabis for a patient.
While the communities of the Fraser Valley grapple with their role in the MMAR, and their position with dispensaries, Vancouver is already home to at least four dispensaries/compassion clubs. The oldest club in the city has been operating for over 10 years with little hassle from the police, or council.
The Dispensary Society has been operating just over a year and a half, and already has over 1600 members. To help serve their membership better, the society just opened another location at Thurlow and Davie St., near St. Paul’s Hospital and the Dr. Peters AIDS Centre. Like TAGGS, representatives knocked on doors in the neighbourhood and explained what they were doing there.
“We didn’t get a single negative response from anybody.” Dana Larsen told the Province.
The Dispensary Society is also looking to open another location before the end of the year, either in New West Minster or South Vancouver.
On Vancouver Island, there are currently four clubs—two in Victoria, one in Coombs, and one in Courtney.
“I am pleased that others have been brave and wise enough to establish these centres. There are tens of thousands of sick people on the Island that don’t have easy access to a local club,” says Ted Smith of the Cannabis Buyers’ Club.
It is exciting to see new clubs and dispensaries opening up in B.C., which is great news for patients. No longer will they have to resort to street dealers to get their medicine while they wait for their crop to come in, and they can be assured that there medicine is safer and free from contaminates. Patients will have greater access to quality strains, and methods of taking their medication. While Health Canada drags its heels on processing applications with processing times of more than six months, patients will still have access to safe medi- cine that gives them relief.
Recently, Health Canada renewed its contract with Prairie Plant Systems for four more years, and 17 million more dollars. The company, which currently employs approximately 50 people, is looking to expand its operations. They are even considering adding a second strain so that patients will have a choice.
It is unconscionable that it has taken so long for Health Canada to catch up with what patients and advocates have been telling them for years. It seems that every step of the way Health Canada has been resistant. Thankfully groups, like TAGGS and The Dispensary Society, have stepped up to do the job that Health Can- ada should have been doing all along— providing safe, healthy medicine to people who are sick or in pain.