Cannabis Life Network spoke to Dori Dempster, the Executive Director of The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, in a wide-ranging interview about the changes she’s seen during this whirlwind decade of cannabis in Canada.
Dori also looks to the future as she tells us about what she sees as the next big battle for the cannabis community post-legalization, how medicinal cannabis is getting lost in all the legalization hype, and the major flaws in the government’s cannabis distribution plan.
Also, if you’re a supporter or member of The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, make sure to keep your calendars clear on Labour Day Monday because The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary’s 10th anniversary Annual Picnic celebration is going down at Strathcona Park from 12pm-6pm.
We look forward to seeing you there!
[CLN] Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary. How do you feel about reaching this milestone?
[Dori] I’m feeling extremely proud of us as a group of people who have come together for this important cause, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of love that is being shared with us from people sending in their congratulations.
I heard that you’re planning something on the Labour Day weekend to celebrate. Could you tell me a little about your plans?
We have an annual picnic that has grown through the years to a celebration at Strathcona Park at the corner of Prior and Raymur.
Lunch is on us at this family-oriented party, and we’re also bringing in a great big load of fresh corn from the valley. We shuck the corn right there and get it made hot and toasty, and then we spread some cannabis butter on it- we call it “Truly Baked Corn”.
We eat that with our hamburgers and other goodies and we just spread out the blankets and have a picnic for our members and our very hardworking staff for a day-off before school and work starts up again.
This year, in particular, we’re putting out a special welcome to anybody that feels they’ve worked towards ending Prohibition and ending the stigma because legalization is right around the corner.
That sounds awesome. You put cannabis butter on the corn?
Yes, a crowd favourite. We always have a kiddie corn version for those that don’t want to partake in the “Truly Baked Corn”.
Like you said, legalization is right around the corner. When you opened 10 years ago, did you ever think we’d get to this point?
10 years ago I was hoping that I might see legalization in my lifetime, so sitting here now and seeing how many dispensaries have opened and closed since then (and continue to open what seems like every single day), it’s been a really great 10 years and there’s a lot to celebrate before we get back to work.
When The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary opened on Hastings St. in 2008, we were the third dispensary to open in Vancouver.
When we opened our Thurlow location in 2010, we were the city’s fourth storefront location. Since July 2010, hundreds have opened in Vancouver and across Canada.
Sure, there’s always been people selling cannabis, but as far as doing it in the open with actual storefront locations, business hours posted on the door, and a clear message of what it is we’re doing- we really are the original dispensary model.
There’s been a lot of change since our dispensaries opened.
Aside from legalization, what have been some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in the last decade?
Some of the biggest changes we’ve seen are the variety of products available to people.
When we opened our first dispensary, we had a safe about 2 ft square that held all the cannabis and money- there was a little cash box and only 3 kinds of cannabis. Now, our menu sometimes has 30 or more varieties of cannabis, and that’s besides all the hashes, topicals, edibles, capsules, oils, and tinctures- we even have a Pet Division now with products specifically for your pets!
How have your patients changed over the years in the sense of demographics and their cannabis knowledge?
In the beginning, we got a lot of people that were already very familiar with the compassion club system as we were generally dealing with people who already knew how cannabis benefited them.
Now, our patients have changed. We’re helping new people learn how to use cannabis for the first time. We’re seeing a lot of people of all backgrounds coming to us because they’ve heard from their neighbour about how cannabis helped them or they’ve seen their grandmother getting better after she’d started eating cookies with her friends, and now they want to see for themselves if it can help them feel better.
I’ve also seen a lot more people sharing on Facebook and social media about how epilepsy and seizures in children can be alleviated by cannabis, and so we’re getting a lot more people coming to us because they’re curious about how cannabis can help their children.
How do you see the cannabis landscape changing in the next 10 years?
I think things are going to change a lot because we’re going through an uncertain time where fear is being evoked with people saying, “We need to close the dispensaries right now if we want any chance of having our dispensary open after legalization”, and that really concerns me because I see a lot of people who would, all of a sudden, have to start searching for a street dealer again to get their medicine.
Especially if you need something other than dried flower- if “your guy” doesn’t know how to make it, you’re in distress.
I think it’s dangerous when we enact laws that force people to start making their medicine for themselves, especially when it comes to concentrates.
It’s best left to the people who know what they’re doing because a sick person shouldn’t have to figure it out for themselves!
Will The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary join the legal system? Why or why not?
We will not be closing our doors with the hope that somebody will someday give us a license to do what we’ve been doing all along these past 10 years. The evidence is in and when Justice Phelan said “dispensaries are the heart of access for medical patients” and we heard that loud and clear.
The medical profession and Health Canada really want nothing to do with this product and are happy to turn patient needs over to Stock Brokers and Sales Executives.
We may pursue a location that will fit within the parameters of the recreational licensing system, but our current medicinal dispensaries will remain doing what they do, in the locations that they are, to continue serving our community.
The fight though is still far from over and there are a lot of things going on with legalization that are kind of problematic. What do you think will be the next big battle for the cannabis community?
I think that the next big battle is figuring out how to regulate the edibles market because, under current regulations, they have essentially said that edibles are simply not allowed- unless you know how to make your own brownies.
That in itself is problematic because people don’t necessarily know how to make the brownies so that they consistently satisfy their needs week-to-week and batch-to-batch.
We also serve a very large group of people who simply don’t have the abilities to make a batch of brownies or can even afford a batch of brownies for that matter.
A lot of our clients are in situations with their housing where they need to line up every night and need to have their bags checked, and they are not allowed to come in with food or drugs, which forces them into situations where they need to purchase and consume their medicine daily.
That can make things expensive for people because they can’t get a deal on things in a greater quantity simply because they can’t afford to buy it or lose that much all at once if it gets confiscated.
So regulation of the edibles market and making those products available to people is going to be a really big hurdle for lawmakers, but as far as the people go, we’ve got it figured out already!
We know what to do with brownies and gummie bears and other edibles– generally, start low and go slow and make sure everybody knows what products they’re consuming.
You also have to supervise your children and pets and ensure you keep your products in a safe place but remember that cannabis is not a dangerous product and there are a hundred things more dangerous in a home than cannabis will ever be.
One of the other biggest hurdles that I see is in educating people and sifting through the propaganda and fear that’s going to be fed to everybody in the campaigns brought out by Health Canada and other “concerned” groups.
How do you feel about the government-run distribution of licensed producer-only cannabis?
What I think that will do is drive certain people to find a way to do get their cannabis without taking part in that system because many people are very skeptical of anything run by the government in general.
Personally, I don’t see the government’s model of taking fresh cannabis plant matter and making a centralized distribution hub working.
It works for liquor, sure, but that’s because everything’s stable and it’s in a bottle.
With cannabis flower, we’re talking about a product that is drying every moment that it’s in a bag, so there’s constant evaporation and degradation, and even though it’s minimal, if you’re going to say that a product has a certain level of cannabinoids like THC or CBD, then you need to make sure that it still has those levels in it when it gets to the customer.
From what I know about the potency tests done on dried cannabis and the way that decarboxylation happens, it’s a matter of how it’s stored, time, temperature, and the amount of light that can change those results.
The product degrades quite quickly as far as smell and things go, but the government is regulating it to come in a package where people won’t even get the opportunity to see if it satisfies the senses!
That is something that a lot of people will miss about the recreational cannabis experience- being able to smell what you’re buying- because often it’s what the nose knows that helps the person determine what their purchase is going to be.
Do you think medicinal cannabis is getting lost in all the hype surrounding legalization?
Absolutely, and you can see that immediately if you’ve attended the Vancouver City Council meetings. They’ll say they can’t amend the bylaws for any reason until they can determine how it’s working, then all of a sudden they change the bylaws- and how do they change it?
They change the word “marijuana” to “cannabis” and they change “medical marijuana-related use” to just “cannabis use”!
They struck “medical” right out because they realized they’d set up a system that only served medical patients and they needed to cover themselves because recreational is right around the corner- but they haven’t left provisions for medical marijuana to be covered in any of these stores because everyone is expected to just transition over to the legal recreational system.
I just read a doctor saying he was pleased that we could “scrap the medical program entirely because it won’t be needed”.
I believe our services will become more essential to our members during this transitional phase because their needs will not being met in recreational stores.
So under legalization, it looks like medicinal cannabis will be subject to all the same taxes and markups and fees of recreational cannabis?
They’re expecting medical patients to go to a legal recreational dispensary and they’re saying there’s no need for a medical system anymore because of that.
The prices will certainly be higher at recreational outlets due to the extra unnecessary warehousing and distribution costs.
Sick people are already facing enough hurdles and extra taxes and fees can mean the difference between them being able to eat and medicate or just eat.
Part of our focus will turn to teaching capable or able members the benefits of growing their own crops under the medical program and providing for themselves wherever they can and then encouraging them to simply share their abundance with those who can’t help themselves.
Our landlord has received an order from the City of Vancouver stating that the city has discovered a medical marijuana dispensary at our Hastings location, and it was ordered closed within two weeks. That deadline was Aug. 3, which of course has passed.
Our lawyer reminded the city that this dispensary is involved in the test case in September regarding the location, and we haven’t really heard anything since.
So the Hastings store is open and it’s business as usual here.
Our Thurlow location has been issued a development permit and we are now working with the architect and the building department so we can move on through to the licensing department.
We’ve been going through this licensing process since 2015 at the Thurlow location and we’ve only just gotten the city to issue the development permit now. Since then, COV changed the name of the bylaw and now it’s my understanding that the city department in charge of this is on hold until the federal rules are developed and then they will adjust the bylaws again.
Was there anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to remind everyone that on Labour Day Monday from 12pm-6pm at Strathcona Park is our 10th Anniversary Picnic Celebration.
The stores will be closed that day and reopen Tuesday at 10am when we will be kicking off a month of specials at the stores.
Thank you to all our members who made this day a reality. I am honoured and grateful for your trust in us.