How a local dispensary outsmarted Aurora at Pride

By now, many of us have heard of the unlicensed dispensary raid that happened Wednesday morning in Vancouver’s West End. 

The Medical Cannabis Dispensary, located on Thurlow Street, was the site of an unpleasant law enforcement visit, around 10:00 a.m., when officers attended the store and cleared out the shelves. 

Dana Larsen, who owns the shop and is an otherwise well-known cannabis activist, told journalists that he is compliant with all city bylaws and regulations. He says that his shop is also in the process of transitioning into the legal system and that the Medical Cannabis Dispensary has been in operation – without issue – for nearly a decade now. 

The raid was conducted by officials from the province and under the authority of the provincial government. Under their jurisdiction, the product was seized and transported off-site, unavailable to patients who waited outside, some of whom were clearly in distress. 

But this isn’t the first-time pot shops have been shut down and dispensaries have been raided. The struggle to stay open has played itself out dramatically over recent months, even reaching itself into forums such as the B.C. Supreme Court. 

But the progress has been grim. 

Appeals to the court have been largely unsuccessful. In December 2018, over fifty dispensaries were ordered to close their doors after the City of Vancouver filed injunctions to shut them down. 

For well over a year, existing cannabis dispensaries struggled to bring themselves into compliance under new laws. Many have described the process as drawn-out, difficult and expensive. 

While some retailers have been scared into voluntarily shutting their doors as they transition from the grey market into the legal scheme, others have remained open, taking their chances in order to continue supplying medicine to patients in need. 

And the risk they take is enormous. 

The provincial government is authorized to hand down fines of up to $100,000 to store owners caught selling cannabis without a provincial license. Jail time is also not out of the question.  

While onerous penalties may be required in order to force compliance under a newly enacted legal scheme, there is a ripe sense of irony in sending retailers to jail for non-violent cannabis offenses in an era of streamlined pardons and legal weed. 

What’s more, medicinal cannabis patients need medicinal cannabis. Without access to their medicine, they suffer. 

Access means more than simply having a store to purchase a product in. 

Access means speaking to a trusted expert, who can provide insight, guidance, and advice about which medicine is best for which patient. It means having a variety of products available, designed to address specific symptoms and needs. 

Access means options. 

It also means affordability. 

Many cannabis patients find themselves in precarious employment situations, unable to work due to chronic pain or debilitating illness. Many are aged and living on fixed incomes. 

This often means that the cannabis products available to them at licensed dispensaries are inadequate, cost-prohibitive and unproven, which translates into cannabis patients either experiencing gaps in treatment or going without altogether. 

With the soaring cost of living in the Lower Mainland, an on-going housing crisis and a public health crisis claiming the lives of thousands, the thought of denying patients their medicine by shutting down their trusted pharmacies is nothing short of shameless. 

Although the law is squarely on the government’s side in terms of raiding dispensaries and fining owners, that doesn’t automatically make their approach morally justifiable. 

The manner in which our province has profited from, tolerated and even assisted cannabis dispensaries prior to legalization sits in stark contrast to their newly acquired aggressive – and quite frankly unethical – approach to cannabis enforcement. 

All in all, it comes back to that age-old notion – just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.