Vancouver is consulting the public on a policy to regulate the illegal storefront sale of marijuana. The only legal way to buy marijuana for medical purposes in the country is through a federally regulated body, Health Canada, and to have it sent by mail.
However, since 1997 unregulated stores have been openly selling the illegal drug. Most of them have been operating without a business license and their owners haven’t been paying taxes. Nowadays about 80 dispensaries are selling marijuana but police say that cracking down is “not a priority.”
The proposed policy would impose a C$30,000 licensing and administrative fee. It would also prohibit stores from operating within 300 metres of schools or community centres.
The argument for gleaning tax dollars from marijuana sales has a certain appeal. The US state of Colorado is actually using revenue from recently legalized marijuana sales to fund education. This may sound like a good idea but the message it sends to society – and especially to children – is that using marijuana is acceptable and even beneficial. This is problematic enough in a state where the drug is legal, but in Canada, where marijuana sales – except through the approved and regulated Health Canada system – are decidedly illegal, the move communicates an extremely confusing morality.
As anti-legalization activist Kevin Sabet has pointed out in an interview with MercatorNet, the marijuana industry seeks to guarantee profits by getting users hooked at a young age.
“In the emerging marijuana industry, potent edibles in the form of colorfully packaged cookies, candies, sodas and brownies are being advertised on the Internet and in mainstream newspapers and magazines across the state. A relentless marijuana lobby insists that these products are not especially attractive to children, yet continues to block controls on advertising, labeling, shape and color.”
Sabet compares this kind of marketing to “Big Tobacco’s” efforts to get kids hooked on tobacco at younger and younger ages.
In Vancouver, there have been several cases of children consuming the attractive-looking edibles sold at these dispensaries. Some have even ended up in hospital. To their credit, police act when they receive tips of marijuana being sold to children, but merely increasing the distance between stores and schools does little to address the problem. It must be nipped it in the bud.
The Federal government is firmly opposed to Vancouver’s proposal. The Health and Public Safety Ministers have sent letters to the City to voice their opposition. But thus far it hasn’t – and it seems it won’t – make much of a difference. Since Vancouver’s proposal, the nearby city of Victoria has also made plans to follow suit and regulate its dispensaries.
Marijuana is tough to control in British Columbia because the province’s climate makes it so easy to grow. Early cannabis production centred in coastal communities like the Gulf Islands and the Kootenay region and, over the years, BC has gained a reputation for its “BC Bud.”
The drug has become so entrenched in local culture that parents can no longer expect their children to receive proper education about the substance outside the home. It’s becoming more and more important for children to hear from their parents that even though marijuana has been normalized by society, the harms of the drug – its devastating effects on the developing brain and sensory systems – as well as the risks of impairment are real.
The common misconception is that there are only two ways of dealing with marijuana: legalization or mass incarceration. If we don’t legalize it entirely, people say, our jails will be filled with young teenagers who were just caught with a joint in their hand. This is untrue. While the penalty for trafficking marijuana is a jail sentence, possession of small amounts may not even blot your criminal record.
Other Canadian cities have taken a more common-sense approach when it comes to the drug, but Vancouver’s culture of acceptance has led to governments regulating and profiting from illegal activity. The way to best protect our kids is to have an open and thorough conversation about drugs with them.
Ada Slivinski is a Canadian journalist who writes about family and social issues.