B.C. lawyer says medical marijuana users should have right to buy pot in stores

City of Vancouver required medical marijuana dispensaries to be licensed starting in June 2015

A lawyer for several medical marijuana dispensaries has urged a B.C. Supreme Court judge to toss out an application to close the shops, saying the federal government failed to include them in its plan to legalize recreational cannabis.

John Conroy said Tuesday the dispensaries have been operating illegally in a kind of “grey zone” while the city makes a $30,000 profit from each business licence.

The City of Vancouver required medical marijuana dispensaries to be licensed starting in June 2015. Many have continued operating without a licence and police have not taken action, unlike in Toronto, where police have raided several similar retailers.

Now, the City of Vancouver is seeking a court injunction to shut down about 50 medical marijuana dispensaries that remain unlicensed.

“The city, in doing what it’s doing, is aiding and abetting the continuation of illegal activity,” Conroy told Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson.

Conroy said it’s up to the federal government to create provisions for medical marijuana users to buy their cannabis at a store, the same way recreational pot users will be legally permitted to do, starting Oct. 17.

The Karuna Health Foundation is the lead plaintiff in the case and currently operates one dispensary that is licensed and another that is not.

Since 2016, federal regulations have permit medical marijuana users to grow limited amounts of marijuana or have someone grow it for them, but Conroy said they have a constitutional right to buy the drug from a dispensary if a doctor has approved its use.

It’s up to the federal government to amend the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, he said.

“Most people want to go to a store, like a pharmacy, talk to people and get their medicine,” he said outside court. “They don’t want to grow it for themselves, they don’t want to sit around and wait to get it in the mail from a licensed producer.”

Patients are opposed to a licensing requirement of dispensaries being located at least 300 metres from a school, Conroy said.

“The right of the medically approved patients to reasonable access is to prevent the violation of their constitutional rights. The security of their person is involved, a doctor has said ‘You’re approved for this medicine.’ “

The City of Vancouver and the British Columbia and federal governments maintain that individual patients, not dispensaries, should be arguing for themselves about their need to reasonably access medical marijuana.

Robert Laurie, a lawyer representing several dispensaries including the Karuna Health Foundation, said outside court that 19 medical dispensaries are currently licensed in Vancouver and many whose licence applications were refused have appealed unsuccessfully to the city’s Board of Variance.

He said the 300-metre buffer zone has eliminated 87 per cent of dispensaries, adding zoning for facilities that sell alcohol are required to have only a 150-metre buffer zone.

The alcohol regulations are more lax compared with the dispensary rules, which interfere with patient access to medical cannabis under the charter, he said.

Laurie said he believes the City of Vancouver’s licensing regime was merely a holding pattern until marijuana legislation was enacted, with the anticipation that it would include medical dispensaries, especially after two Supreme Court of Canada decisions allowed patients to grow and use medical marijuana.

“However, we’re still waiting because it seems that a recognition of medical access has continued to fall on deaf ears with our federal government, which is why we’re here today.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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