Joel Wilson is one of the operators of WeeMedical’s new Campbell River outlet. The medical marijuana dispensary opened last week and is one of two operating in town. It’s competitor Trees Dispensary was raided by police Wednesday.

Pot dispensaries set up shop

The city is keeping an eye on Campbell River’s medical marijuana dispensaries which opened their doors last week.

Bylaw officers have already visited WeeMedical Dispensary Society which is offering marijuana products from a storefront on 13th Avenue but the operators say they welcome the scrutiny.

“I want everybody to feel comfortable. We’re not sneaking in,” says Joel Wilson, the co-operator of WeeMedical’s Campbell River arm.

Campbell River has now joined the ranks of B.C. communities that are being forced to deal with these operations in the absence of clear legal standing. Port Alberni has seven marijuana dispensaries and WeeMedical was one of them, opening last fall under the threat of prosecution from the city’s RCMP detachment. The police and the city have since backed off of those threats and the city has actually issued a business licence to WeeMedical in Port Alberni.

Wilson understands why it went down that way in Port Alberni. The dispensaries are in a kind of regulatory limbo and cities have no experience with licensing them so the rules are being made up as we go along.

The whole issue escalated last fall with the election of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who promised to legalize marijuana. That legalization hasn’t come through yet but a lot of pot dispensaries are not waiting any longer and are pushing the agenda.

WeeMedical operates as a society and as such, Wilson says, they don’t need a business licence. They’ve begun following a path in Campbell River that they’ve walked in other communities in the province like Nanaimo, Sechelt, North Vancouver and Port Alberni.

“We’ve gone through eight of these other stores. We’ve gone through the exact same issues. It’s a new thing coming to communities right?” Wilson says.

Usually, right off the bat, police and bylaw enforcement say “No,” Wilson says.

“We work with them. We’re not there to be ‘no we’re coming in and that’s it.’ We’re going the other way,” Wison says.

But, he says, “The law needs to be changed.”

The City of Campbell River’s position is that the sale of marijuana is illegal.

“We have been monitoring the situation as have the RCMP,” says City Clerk Peter Wipper.

Campbell River RCMP raided Trees dispensary on Wednesday.  The item will be on city council’s in-camera agenda at Monday’s council meeting to update councillors, he said. In-camera proceedings are not open to the public or the press.

“We’ve made it clear that federal law does prohibit the sale of marijuana, so they’re not allowed to do that,” Wipper says. “Until such time that the federal government changes the rules, it will be the city’s position that the use of a marijuana dispensary would be illegal.”

Wipper said that, so far, WeeMedical has been complying with the city’s regulations.

They are selling products and paraphernalia that can be used but they’re not to sell the actual drug itself.

Some communities have decided to license these operations in the absence of federal regulations but Wipper said the City of Campbell River won’t be doing that.

Meanwhile, there have been “lots” of inquiries from other business owners wanting to get into this, Wipper says.

Wilson says the demand for the service is high. Seventy per cent of their clients in Campbell River are not interested in smoking marijuana, they’re interested in the oils, edibles and rubs.

Wilson said they will only sell to people who have prescriptions or memberships in other dispensing societies.

Jon Buckland is Wilson’s partner in the management of the operation. He said 75 per cent of their clients are seniors.

“They’ve never smoked marijuana in their whole life,” Buckland said. “They come in with their prescription list with 10 items they want to get.”

Wilson says they had one senior come in and buy THC-infused candies. They then went back to their seniors residence and handed them out.

“I had seven ladies in the next three days coming in to sign up and grabbing more candies,” Wilson says.

But, as has been shown in other communities, the situation is always in flux. In fact, on April 5, the RCMP raided the Chilliwack WeeMedical Dispensary. Chilliwack RCMP said they received a report of alleged illegal cannabis sales on March 11, a week before it opened.