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Nanaimo reviews options on pot shops

NANAIMO – A new staff report is in the works to look at the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Nanaimo city officials are looking at what can be done about pot shops, as illegal dispensaries continue to open across the Harbour City.

A city report on the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries is now in the works, with staff members looking at how other B.C. municipalities approached the pot retailers and what options are available to local governments when regulating shops.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have been growing in numbers, openly selling bud, tinctures, marijuana-infused candy and soda despite being considered illegal by the federal government.

Health Canada licenses only six B.C. producers, including Tilray, to sell to registered, medically prescribed patients and not from storefronts.

The City of Vancouver has tried to address shops with new zoning and business licence regulations, while the City of Victoria is now looking at ways to regulate.

Nanaimo doesn’t license dispensaries or levy fines for being without one. Nanaimo RCMP, while aware of the stores, has previously told the News Bulletin it takes time and resources to investigate dispensaries.

Now with calls from proponents and citizens about medical marijuana dispensaries and action from other local governments, Nanaimo will take its own look at the issue.

Coun. Jerry Hong said he wants to provide some assurance to residents that this municipality is doing what it can to look at the situation. Mayor Bill McKay points to lack of support from the federal government for putting municipalities in a position of having to decide what to do with dispensaries. He said it has to take a “very hard” and “very thorough” look at what it can possibly do.

“My biggest fear is not the sale, but it’s the product that’s going out the door,” he said, pointing out that Nanaimo has seen a number of fentanyl deaths in the last year. “If these places are going to be regulated, I want to ensure we’re not in any way endorsing the activities of a product that people are going to consume of which come from unknown origin and has unknown content.”

Greg Engel, chief executive officer for Tilray, believes the only action the city can take is to work with the court system and police to take action against the pot retailers.

“I can’t really comment on what other steps they could take because that’s really kind of where the line is … they are selling illegally and they are creating a lot of misconceptions to legitimate patients who could access a legal source through licensed producers like ourselves.”

Anita Roy, assistant manager of Trees Dispensary Nanaimo, said her company welcomes regulations that ensure the safety and quality for its clients and patients and would like to see business licensing from the city.

“It would legitimize our business and then they can collect revenue and ask us to make sure that we are safe for our staff and our clients,” she said.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose was not available for an interview and an e-mailed statement did not address questions about Nanaimo’s review or how municipalities are expected to deal with dispensaries. The statement maintained the federal government’s stance that the storefronts are illegal and will remain illegal under a Conservative government and that police are expected to enforce the law.

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