Despite the May 31st BC Supreme Court ruling that again ordered Vancouver’s unlicensed dispensaries to close, Dana Larsen is keeping his dispensaries open for as long as possible. The Cannabis Life Network caught up with Dana Larsen, a prominent cannabis advocate and owner of The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, who told us why.

CLN: How will the recent BC Supreme court ruling affect your dispensary?

Dana Larsen: It doesn’t really change anything, but it doesn’t help the dispensaries either. The City of Vancouver has had the power to close the dispensaries since December, but they haven’t done so yet.

We were hoping to stop the city from closing us down with a stay until our appeal of the December decision was resolved, but that was denied by the judge on May 31.

But ultimately, for our dispensary, we’re going to stay open as long as we can.

I think WEEDS has announced they’re closing down a few locations and originally, this whole case started with a lot more places [Editor’s note: over 40] and now we’re down to 9, and now there will probably be less than that.

But I’m not willing to close our place yet because we have too many members and patients that need our help.

We’re one of the few dispensaries left in the Downtown Eastside and we’ve even got city councillors now asking why there’s no medical cannabis access in the DTES, while at the same time they’re trying to shut down places like us that provide that access.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. It’s up to the city and how they’re going to act.

Dana Larsen dispensaries
Dana Larsen keeping his dispensaries open

Your dispensary was one of the first ones to open in Vancouver and now you’re one of the last dispensaries standing.

We’ve been open over 10 years. We were the 3rd to open in the city and I take a lot of credit for building the dispensary movement in Vancouver and across Canada because many of the ones that came up after we opened consulted with me, and I gave them a lot of advice and encouragement.

I didn’t want to be the only dispensary or have it all to myself. I wanted to have a network of independent dispensaries across the country. I’m disappointed that so many have shut down because in numbers, there is strength.

I’ve actually gotten a bit busier because everyone else is shutting down. On one hand, that’s nice, but on the other hand, it’s not how I want to be getting busier- that’s not what I wanted at all.

Clearly, there’s a big demand. People want what we have and I just don’t want to stop providing (Hence,Dana Larsen is still keeping his dispensaries open).

If the legal system was good enough and worked well enough with a lot of shops providing high-quality, medical cannabis at a reasonable price- I’d be happy to shut down my place!

I didn’t open my dispensary in the hopes of having a legal marijuana shop and cashing in. I opened my shop because Canadians needed safe access to high quality cannabis for medicinal or personal purposes. I wanted to provide that, and it’s still needed as much today as it was 10 years ago when we first started.

Maybe we’re not needed quite as much with the legal system in place, but that legal system is not adequate. It has a long way to go before it can match the quality, price, and range of products with the medicinal benefits that we continue to provide at our dispensary.

Have you seen any signs or hints that the city’s enforcement actions might be increasing?

The city actually said it was up to the new provincial cannabis squad, the Community Safety Unit, to deal with us so the city itself hasn’t been doing much.

I don’t expect the Vancouver police to come in and raid us or anything, but the city did contact our landlord and threatened him with fines for allowing us to operate without a business license, although I don’t think the province or city wants a big confrontation or raid where people are dragged out of the dispensaries in handcuffs.

So far, the tactics of threats and bureaucracy have been working because a lot of places have shut down. But I also feel that I have less to lose because I have no interest in getting a legal permit or running a legal shop. I’m interested in serving my members and providing a good example of what a cannabis shop should be like and I’m going to keep doing that for as long as I can and for as long as it’s needed.

I wish that the focus of the legal system was on improving their system and increasing access so that dispensaries like mine are redundant but instead they seem to be focusing on trying to bust dispensaries like us and force people into the legal shops at gunpoint.

I think a properly regulated legal system should be able to compete very well against a dispensary like mine, but they’re not. The problem is bad regulations.

dispensaries dispensary tmcd
The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary on Hastings.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I hope that the city and authorities will just hang back a little and not be in such a rush to shut places like us down.

I accept that my dispensary probably won’t be around in 5 years. I hope that’s because within 5 years, the legal system has been improved so much that we’re no longer needed.

But right now, that’s not the case, and there are a lot of reasons to stay open, and I think that shutting down dispensaries in the midst of the opioid crisis is the wrong time (That’s why Dana Larsen is keeping his dispensaries open).

I’m hoping that some of the higher courts agree with us and we can get a different decision in our appeal but it’s hard to say how the courts are going to look at this. We haven’t had a lot of luck so far.