Nanaimo dispensary community comes together over RCMP threats

The Nanaimo dispensary community was ordered to shut their doors by local RCMP last week, but, according to activists, the action has only made them more resilient.

Amanda Orum is a cannabis advocate who has worked for several dispensaries in the Nanaimo area and was one of the first to propose businesses work together to combat the shut down orders received by 10 operations last week.

“I thought it was probably in our best interests to form a coalition to discuss these aggressive tactics from the RCMP,” said Orum, who began reaching out to operations around the town. “Within an hour we had every single dispensary from Nanaimo.”

Orum said over the next few hours the group heard from supporters across the country, including Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley, who promised to write a letter to the local RCMP detachment, requesting they stand down until the federal government, who have promised to legalize cannabis, had begun their regulation process.

“The application of the law currently is very inconsistent, from community to community,” wrote Routley in a Facebook message to Orum. “While no one can direct the RCMP to not enforce those sections of the criminal code, we can and should appeal to them to resist in the name of respecting the democratic will of Canadians, Nanaimoites and to avoid continuing an unnecessary, unhealthy conflict.”

Orum said the initial meeting between dispensary staff and operators turned into an advocacy session and opportunity to discuss standards in the community.

“We’re all going to prepare for a possible raid,” said Orum. “When we heard [the RCMP] say it was a public safety issue we knew they were going to take our product, get it tested and pick the one with the most amount of residue, call it a public safety concern and shut us down over that.”

Orum said this was an opportunity for the community to create internal guidelines and let growers know that dispensaries won’t accept contaminated cannabis.

Over the weekend, all dispensaries provided samples to a local lab for testing, a step Orum said isn’t to satisfy authorities.

“The community is worried that the product being pushed around isn’t clean — It makes us no better than the drug dealers on the street” she said. “We want to legitimize our businesses and products and have standards that we’ve created ourselves.”

Orum said the community is still waiting to see what police will do, as their deadline to close approaches.

In the meantime, businesses are limiting their supplies in store so they can help patients, but minimize their risk in the event of a raid.

“We’re going to reopen the very next day if we’re raided,” said Orum. “We’re going to make them bust us over and over and over again until the police don’t have the resources to shut us down anymore.”

Routley said it’s because of the previous Conservative government that businesses are now in this position.

“There has been a void of leadership on the issue, the disastrous continuation of miserably failed prohibition policies and a contempt for the rulings of courts by the federal Conservative government,” wrote Routley. “The Conservatives never disguised their contempt for marijuana reform and wasted millions, perhaps billions, of public funds on a prohibition that victimized Canadian citizens, making criminals of good people and causing further suffering for patients already struggling with illness.”

Bringing the dispensaries together hasn’t been easy, but Orum said it’s the right thing to do.

“While our shops are illegal, there’s a clearly defined difference between what’s legal and lawful,” she said. “Lawful is what the community allows — our community has allowed this industry to flourish.”

The group has organized a protest outside of tonight’s council meeting at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.