Anita Roy

Anita Roy

Marijuana dispensaries operate in legal limbo

NANAIMO – New medical marijuana dispensaries are cropping up in the Harbour City.

A steady stream of customers file into Trees Dispensary Nanaimo, one of several places to pick up medical marijuana in the Harbour City.

Cookies, brownies and B.C bud can all be found behind glass cases at the Bowen Road storefront, estimated to serve 1,500 people each week. Clients don’t have to be medical marijuana patients as long as they declare they have a serious medical condition.

It’s not the first storefront to go to pot in the Harbour City to meet demand for medical marijuana. Despite retail pot being illegal and the city’s refusal to license the business, more dispensaries are on the way. Two signs advertising dispensaries have cropped up along Terminal Avenue and Nicol Street.

Dispensaries are operating within a grey area, according to those behind the counter and city bylaw manager Randy Churchill.

The City of Nanaimo has the potential to issue fines to unlicensed businesses – if dispensaries aren’t registered as non-profits – but since the city doesn’t want to license an outlet it views as illegal, it doesn’t want to ticket dispensaries for being without one. Churchill says the city is most concerned with where the product comes from and the conditions of houses and buildings, but it’s the RCMP that decides whether the dispensaries are in breach of the law.

Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Mark Fisher says police have to do a proper investigation and it also comes down to policing priorities, but it is illegal to sell marijuana and they are gathering information on what’s happening. He also points out that patients who do have medical permits have the option to go to licensed providers who are legal, like Tilray.

“There’s controls over the production of that marijuana, and quality controls and testing that meets certain standards that all falls under the federal government program; dispensaries we don’t know where they’re getting their marijuana from, what testing is done on that marijuana, anything of that nature and same with the food products that they sell,” he said.

“We have concerns in that regard as well,” Fisher said.

Anita Roy, assistant manager of Trees Dispensary, acknowledges the business is operating in a grey area – as is every other dispensary in B.C. – but it pays its taxes and employee wages and has attempted to get a business licence from the city.

It has also made the city and RCMP aware it exists and wants to be a legitimate business – it’s providing a venue for people to access marijuana instead of having to get it on the street. Trees is also different from other dispensaries, serving people who don’t want to go into a head shop, but want to access products like CBD capsules. The only signs Tree Dispensaries offers up marijuana are the white boards advertising prices and types of product, the smell of bud and a pile of canned goods on the floor offered in exchange for a free joint. The products themselves are behind closed doors.

“We are busy all the time. People are happy that we’re here,” said Roy, who says Trees serves a wide range of demographics and ailments.

Other dispensaries in the city are the not-for-profit Phoenix Pain Management Society and the Nanaimo Medical Care Club.