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Debating Legalization in Canada and Board of Variance in Vancouver

Cannabis News

This Week in Weed: Highlights of May 16-23 2016

Want to ask your pharmacist about the possible side effects and interactions between cannabis and other prescription medications you may be taking? According to a recent study, only 17 percent of pharmacists in Canada feel prepared to answer your questions.

Unnerved by this? For more information on the poll of Canadian pharmacists about their knowledge of medical marijuana, and more news concerning health and the legalization of cannabis in general, look no further than our highlights from this week in weed:

Debating Legalization in Canada

What role should pharmacists have in Canada’s upcoming cannabis legalization regime?

According to Phil Emberley, the director for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, pharmacists are best suited to advise medical marijuana patients, not dispensaries.

“We are deeply concerned about the proliferation of these so-called medical marijuana dispensaries that are illegally providing health care advice to thousands of Canadians,” Emberley wrote to the Globe and Mail on Monday. To read his argument, click here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/why-pharmacists-should-be-dispensing-medical-marijuana/article30098846/

Yet lingering ignorance among pharmacists about cannabis was highlighted this week by a study conducted by the Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy, noting that 65 percent of pharmacists surveyed had no formal training in medical marijuana and did not consider themselves knowledgeable about the subject.

More than half (54.8 percent) of the respondents indicated that they had not even read the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations that the federal government uses as its basis for granting patients access to cannabis. For more on the study, head to Lift: https://news.liftcannabis.ca/2016/05/16/survey-canadian-hospital-pharmacists-supportive-of-cannabis/

This clearly undermines Emberley’s claims that only pharmacists are informed and prepared enough to provide patients with marijuana. His argument that marijuana should only be sold in pharmacies and not in dispensaries also overlooks the fact that the Liberals are looking to regulate the sale of marijuana for recreational as well as medical purposes, and dispensaries are at minimum well placed to serve that market, if not both.

Yet Emberley is one of many self-interested parties quick to criticize the marijuana shops that have stepped in to fill the need for an accessible medical marijuana market in Canada, even though the Supreme Court declared in February 2016 that it was unconstitutional to abandon patients to the overly and poorly regulated federal licensing system.

From insurance companies charging medical marijuana users the same elevated premiums as tobacco smokers (on the basis that their cannabis consumption causes the same kind of harm as tobacco, a claim that has been repeatedly refuted by science), to the expanding crackdowns against dispensaries in Toronto provoked by complaints about these stores from Licensed Producers (who enjoy a very lucrative relationship with the state), ignorance about and stigma against marijuana use and markets endures in the legalization debates. For instance, while LPs like Cam Battley claim their only interest is patient safety, the reality is that “they are losing business to the dispensaries,” says the Financial Post.

Cannabis in Canada interviewed Aaron Salz, a financial analyst for Interward Asset Management, in order to obtain a rough estimate of the value of the business LPs lose to dispensaries every year. Salz claimed “that the private dispensary market is almost four times the size of the LP market. Private dispensaries have around 500 million dollars in sales while the LP’s only have 130-140 million dollars in sales.”

For more on the “intense lobbying campaign by licensed pot producers” to get the City of Toronto to crack down on unregulated dispensaries, read here:

Toronto’s marijuana crackdown follows heavy lobbying by legal pot producers

https://cannabisincanada.ca/lps-lobbied-toronto-to-shut-down-dispensaries/

For more on the sky-high insurance premiums for marijuana users, read the Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/tobacco-marijuana-exactly-the-same-when-it-comes-to-insurance-premiums/article30117261/

Finally, controversy arose this week (not for the first time) about the risks of driving under the influence of marijuana and the difficulty in measuring legal cannabis “impairment” by long-term medical users. At an International Conference on Urban Traffic Safety in Edmonton, an American state trooper warned Canadian officials that “there’s not really a quantifiable amount for marijuana intoxication right now, because the drug affects people so much differently than alcohol … there’s just not that level of study for marijuana yet.”

Nevertheless, Eldridge insisted that officials “have to think about how you’re going to deal with this increase of a drug in the society, and how you keep people from driving under the influence.” For more information on this recurring debate, head to CBC:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/how-will-canada-crack-down-on-marijuana-impaired-drivers-1.3551658

The difficulty in assessing legal limits for marijuana impairment, due at least partially to a lack of research from longstanding prohibition, has been a problem for Canadian regulators before. For more on past debates about this issue when the Liberals have tried (four times) to change the legal status of marijuana, click here: https://news.liftcannabis.ca/2016/05/23/past-liberal-initiatives-to-reform-cannabis-laws-a-review/

Due to debates around driving while under the influence of cannabis, and other matters, Toronto Public Health released a statement on May 18 suggesting that the federal government regulate marijuana along the lines of alcohol and tobacco, a position already challenged by cannabis normalization activists. For more on that dispute, look here: https://cannabisincanada.ca/toronto-public-health-requests-health-and-safety-approach-to-legalization/

Debate around these issues is great to see in the mainstream press and is in keeping with the momentum behind the movement to free the weed on the basis of more reasonable public policy. Yet widespread confusion remains on a range of topics, and it is up to citizens to keep themselves informed by researching many sources on cannabis legalization.

Understanding would be helped by less official obfuscation, according to columnists like Jenna Valleriani at the University of Toronto, who insists it is time for regulators to make some decisions and “clear the smoke over marijuana shops.” Rather than leaving the field wide-open for ongoing politicized contestation, or adopting a one-size fits all federal policy, Valleriani suggests letting provinces adopt their own models of regulation.

Read her argument here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/why-we-need-to-clear-the-smoke-over-marijuana-shops/article30112320/

Board of Variance in Vancouver

While Toronto has become the subject of an LP-sponsored dispensary crackdown, giving dispensaries three days to close down as of May 19, Vancouver is navigating its own licensing process and became this week the second Canadian city to grant a business license to a dispensary, according to the Georgia Straight:

http://www.straight.com/news/700166/vancouver-officially-has-its-first-dispensary-licensed-sell-medicinal-marijuana

https://cannabisincanada.ca/toronto-gives-dispensaries-three-days-to-shut-down/

This is a positive development for the Wealth Shop Society, the dispensary in question which has yet to open its doors and sell any weed. Sadly, the shop’s success comes at a time that other long-active dispensaries are struggling to stay open in the Board of Variance.

On Wednesday, May 18, the Board of Variance held another meeting and granted one dispensary, the Real Compassion Society at 151 East Hastings Street, their appeal to stay open. Two other dispensaries, Canna Mart at 4893 Clarendon Street and Eastside Compassion Society, were denied their appeal. The last shop of the day, Erbachay Health Centers Inc, was merely granted an extension.

This week’s Board of Variance meeting was notable for the “increasingly vocal” tension between Board members Marsha Welsh, Jag Dhillon and city regulators. Although the Board’s granting of the appeal of Real Compassion Society’s right to operate messed up the City of Vancouver’s “declustering process,” which keeps dispensaries 300 metres from one another, Welsh and Dhillon insisted on basing their decisions on zoning matters, not arbitrary city rules.

As some dispensaries fight in the Board of Variance, others, like the Buddha’s Sister, continue to receive fines for operating. Some dispensary staff have received fines as well as owners of the business. According to the city, only 7 out of 139 fines have been paid.

For more information, head to Lift and Cannabis in Canada:

https://news.liftcannabis.ca/2016/05/18/board-of-variance-rejects-2-approves-1/

https://cannabisincanada.ca/vancouver-board-of-variance-approves-one-appeal-city-completes-declustering-process/

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