The operator of the third medicinal marijuana dispensary in Maple Ridge has met with Mayor Nicole Read and councillors and plans to continue operating under a “compassion club” model, until the new Liberal government legalizes the drug.
Paul Hallelujah opened Weeds Glass and Gifts with partner Don Briere on 225th Avenue on Oct. 19, with the hope that newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow through on his promise of legalization.
The downtown Maple Ridge shop was soon visited by bylaw enforcement officers, who ticketed him for operating without a business licence.
Tuesday he met with Read and two councillors.
“They stuck to their hard line,” he said. “Federally, it’s illegal.”
However, he found Coun. Craig Spiers was sympathetic to his cause, and is optimistic about his future in Maple Ridge. For now, Hallelujah will continue to operate as a dispensary, selling mostly edible marijuana products to people who need them for medicinal purposes.
“It’s a grey zone. Nobody really wants to stop us from giving clean medicine to people,” he said.
And ultimately, he would like to sell legal, recreational marijuana from the same site.
His partner, Brier, owns 21 sites that sell medicinal pot, as well as paraphernalia.
Read said whether Hallelujah operates as a medical marijuana dispensary is a matter for the criminal justice system.
“Right now, it’s up to the RCMP,” said the mayor.
She reiterated to Hallelujah that until new legislation is introduced, any dispensaries are operating outside the law.
Read said council will have a discussion about dispensaries from a land-use perspective – appropriate zoning for such operations, in the coming weeks.
She was not sure council will have an appetite for drafting a lot of regulations for dispensaries the way Vancouver has.
“This is still early days,” she said.
She would rather wait for direction from Trudeau’s government.
In the meantime, Hallelujah said there is a brand of vape-juice for electronic cigarettes being sold locally that contains THC.
“We’re losing our market share really fast.”
Spiers said the issue is clearly a criminal matter that should be enforced by the RCMP, if anyone. He doesn’t want the city to get embroiled in the issue.
“My opinion is that’s inappropriate,” said Spiers. “This is in flux, so why would we step into it?”
The former NDP candidate said Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed no leadership on the issue.
“They didn’t want to deal with it, so we end up with the mess we’ve got.”
He favours legalization.
“Education around drugs is the way to go,” he said. “Prohibition has never worked, and never can.”
And he said the dispensary model has proven to be an efficient way to do it, with recreational distribution eventually folded into that system.
Skeptics notwithstanding, Spiers said there are sick people who rely on medicinal marijuana.
“These are people with AIDS and cancer and long-term illnesses who need medicine, and pot is the most benign thing going.”
He said dispensaries generally create no problems for local government, compared with bars, which “are always having police issues.”
Spiers said local authorities should “back off” and “let the feds figure it out.”