Articles written for various community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, B.C. and special interest print and online magazines

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Re-Leaf Gets No Relief

On June 21, District of North Vancouver councilors unanimously agreed to prohibit Re-Leaf to operate a non-profit dispensary for medical marijuana in the Deep Cove area.

Re-Leaf founder Ken Starr's attempted grand opening on June 11 was met by RCMP and district officials who let him know they would take further action if he kept his doors open.

The issue, many councillors agreed, is how the land - not the drug - should be used.

“We are not debating the benefits and merits of marijuana, we are debating land use and whether this business is appropriate for the district. I believe it isn't. The public clearly demonstrated that,” Counc. Robin Hicks said about the comments made at the June 14 public hearing by community members.

Counc. Lisa Muri said the debate about legality of dispensaries – often known as compassion clubs where they operate illegally in other locations around the Lower Mainland – is for senior levels of government. “Our powers lie in land use. We work with our community to determine how best to serve our neighbourhoods and we zone accordingly. This is not our fight.”

Several councilors welcomed a clear directive from the federal government on what to do about dispensaries and called for better access to the plant through the health system.

But Ken Starr said described this kind of reaction as a typical form of nimbyism.

“In my opinion, they've just passed the buck. They're not wanting to deal with it at all. They all said they are compassionate for it but not in my backyard,” he said.

However, many councilors acknowledged a clear need in the community for medical marijuana on the North Shore.

But Counc. Mike Little said there is a stigma in the community against those who seek it for pain relief.

“I want to do everything in our power to show that our community can be a compassionate community,” he said. “The way to get the broader community away from a stigma issue is through good regulation. If this was coming through a doctor's prescription or through a pharmacy, I don't think the community would have the same kind of response.”

Counc. Alan Nixon expressed his concern that a business owner wouldn't first establish approval from the district in the form of a business license and a building inspection before opening up shop saying Starr went “around the rules”.

But Starr said that wasn't true. In August 2010, he said he was told by the District office zoning department that if he could find a location on the North Shore that would lease their building to him, he could go ahead.

“Every time I called and asked about a location - they told me they knew what I was and I explained what I was, they were very clear on that - and they told me if I found a commercial retail zoning spot they would be extremely happy and that is what I found,” Starr said.

Starr believes it is a good place for it, despite council arguments that it is in the wrong one from a planning perspective.

“I researched how many people on the North Shore how many people had a need for it and it seemed to be between Deep Cove and Lonsdale where the majority of the people were,” he said.

But Counc. Nixon said that for many living in the District it would be faster to go to a downtown dispensary than to Deep Cove.

At deadline, Starr was unsure whether he would further pursue his goal to open a dispensary.

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