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Medical Marijuana Ban Hearing Draws Big Crowd

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A proposed ban on dispensing medical marijuana without explicit federal approval drew medical marijuana users, legalization activists and residents from across the North Shore into the District of North Vancouver's council chambers Tuesday night for a standing-room-only public hearing.

The draft bylaw comes in response to an abortive attempt by the Re-Leaf Dispensary Society to begin selling pot to prescription-holding patients in Deep Cove. Police officers and district bylaw officers converged on the premises June 11 to prevent the dispensary from opening.

The legality of medical marijuana dispensaries is murky. The current legislation only allows licensed patients to grow their own cannabis, designate another person to grow it for them, or purchase it directly from Health Canada. Any distribution or dispensing, says the North Vancouver RCMP, constitutes drug trafficking.

But marijuana advocates say recent court decisions have supported dispensaries, and several locations operate openly in Vancouver, Burnaby, Maple Ridge and elsewhere with the full knowledge of police.

"I saw my grandmother suffer," Re-Leaf president Ken Starr told council. "I tried to help her with medical marijuana, knowing that it could help her. I don't think I made a strong enough effort so she did suffer quite a bit. Since then I've made it a personal goal to help people I see in my grandmother's situation. I've helped dozens of senior citizens who I've seen stuck sitting in a wheelchair, their hands clawed with arthritis and unable to feed or take care of themselves. I have helped them get medical marijuana and I've seen people who were taking 16 different medications a day stop taking them. I've seen those same people get up out of their wheelchairs and start walking around again and enjoying their lives. I've seen someone start dancing."

Starr said his personal experience with medicinal pot came after he was hit by a car and went through four years of rehabilitation before being able to walk. Marijuana, he said, helped him stop taking powerful pharmaceutical painkillers.

"I was born and raised here," Starr continued. "I'm raising my children here. They actually go to Seycove and Cove Cliff, within walking distance of the dispensary. I felt that if one is going to open in my community, I wanted to be the one who did it. I would like to make sure it's run properly. I would like the opportunity to help sick people in North Vancouver."

A series of medical marijuana users addressed the hearing, reporting that smoking, eating, or ingesting tinctures of marijuana was an invaluable part of coping with conditions as varied as degenerative bone disease, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis, spinal injury, bipolar disorder and the effects of chemotherapy. Several speakers grew emotional during their presentations, saying it would be "outrageous," "sick," and "inhuman" to deny North Vancouver patients access to medical marijuana.

"I don't deny the benefits of medical marijuana," said resident Katrina Stobbart, "but what we're talking about is land use in the District of North Vancouver. This facility that's being proposed is at the very end of the road – literally that you can get on the North Shore. It's in a very small hub of a residential community. Very little commercial enterprise takes place there. There's the proximity of two pre-schools, three elementary schools and a high school, all within blocks."

Several other residents echoed Stobbart's argument. If the dispensary can operate within the law, they said, it would be more appropriate to locate it in the cluster of medical offices and businesses centred around Lions Gate Hospital.

Several speakers also criticized Re-Leaf for attempting to open without seeking a business license or an inspection by the district's building officials. District staff say the dispensary might also be violating the permitted uses allowed under the building's zoning. The first they heard of it, many said, was through the North Shore News.

"Under no circumstances do I approve of the North Van district allowing a medical marijuana dispensary to open in my neighbourhood, in Deep Cove," said David Ross. "Two reasons: the first is the location, the second is the health and safety of our community. Mr. Starr himself personally requested that we report to him if any of his marijuana members were found loitering in the neighbourhood. This leads us to believe that these customers are different from those patronizing other local retailers. These stores haven't been asked us to report their customers. If his members are truly sick, why would they be loitering in our neighbourhood? I suspect that the owner knows that these people will be using these drugs in the neighbourhood or selling them to students."

But recent Carson Graham graduate Brian Duvall disagreed, telling council that youth already had such unfettered access to marijuana that a dispensary would make no difference at all.

"I am the caregiver for my daughter, who is 30 years old and in extreme pain 24-7," said Pam Miller, the self-described "squarest person you'll ever meet."

Miller said her daughter was scared to use painkillers such as OxyContin offered by her doctors, and resorted to medical marijuana instead. The cannabis costs the Millers up to $700 a month and hours spent driving to and from East Vancouver.

"If I wanted morphine or OxyContin, I wouldn't have to pay a cent," she said. "So nobody uses marijuana who doesn't have to because the other drugs are paid for. And I really resent the long drive."

Miller said the strain of cannabis used by her daughter is not available from Health Canada and she had not had any success in growing it herself. She also defended Re-Leaf's choice of location.

"There's a pub right beside these schools. All these drunk people – no-one's worried about them. I have been around the B.C. Compassion Club. I have never seen people smoking or hanging around or altercations or anything like that. I've never seen the police there. Police get called to pubs all the time; how dare anyone say police get called to the Compassion lub. I've been going for seven years, very frequently."

The public hearing was closed after four hours of presentations. Council will debate the proposed bylaw at an upcoming meeting. No date has been set.

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: vancouversun.com
Author: Benjamin Alldritt
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Copyright: Postmedia Network Inc.
Website: Medical marijuana ban hearing draws big crowd
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