Alicia Morneau, employee at WeeMedical Dispensary Society in Sechelt, holds up some of the store’s marijuana-infused edibles that are sold to customers with a prescription and a membership to WeeMedical. – Christine Wood Photo
There are now two medical marijuana dispensary storefronts in Sechelt that are selling cannabis products to the public – and a third set to start selling product this month – despite the fact RCMP say it’s illegal.
WeeMedical Dispensary Society, a dispensary chain started in Nanaimo, set up shop on the corner of Teredo Street and Inlet Avenue and opened its doors to the public on Feb. 22.
Meanwhile, Weeds Glass and Gifts has been open for more than a year on Wharf Avenue and has been operating as a dispensary for a little over six months, according to manager Robin Kehler.
And now, the owner of 420 Hemp Shop on Cowrie Street is rearranging his store to offer a dispensary in the back, while still selling hemp products and pot paraphernalia in the front. Owner Danny Owsnett hopes to open the dispensary by the middle of March.
WeeMedical and Weeds Glass and Gifts both sell various strains of marijuana, as well as concentrates and edibles. Weeds also sells oils, creams, salves, tinctures and pot in pill form. 420 Hemp Shop plans to sell several strains of marijuana as well as tinctures, oils and possibly gum from the back of its store.
Sunshine Coast RCMP Const. Harrison Mohr said the detachment takes a “zero-tolerance approach to dispensaries,” as selling cannabis products from storefronts remains illegal.
“There is still no legal mechanism in Canada which allows for ‘medicinal marijuana dispensaries’ or ‘compassion clubs’ to sell marijuana to the public, regardless of whether or not the purchasing individuals have licences to possess marijuana or whether or not the vendor has a licence to produce marijuana,” Mohr said this week, noting the RCMP have already raided one dispensary being operated out of a home in Selma Park – S&M Sweet Shoppe.
When asked why the RCMP’s zero-tolerance approach hasn’t led to the closure of Weeds Glass and Gifts, Mohr said, “I can’t comment on why any specific dispensary has been allowed to remain open thus far; however, Sunshine Coast RCMP will continue to monitor the local dispensaries and prioritize enforcement action as appropriate.”
Kehler said he thinks the RCMP have left Weeds Glass and Gifts alone so far because he’s being strict about only selling to people with a medical prescription for cannabis. He said 14 local doctors are now prescribing to his store.
“They have let me for the last year keep my doors open because I am really trying to work within the confines of the law, but as far as the police are concerned, it’s still illegal until the feds make the change, and we all know the change is coming,” Kehler said.
Owner of WeeMedical in Sechelt, Keir MacPherson, said he also sells only to people with prescriptions or cards from other dispensaries that would have required them to prove their need with a prescription.
“I try to make it as easy as possible and yet still follow what I need to follow for them to become a member here,” MacPherson said.
He recently moved to the Coast with his wife and four young children and said he decided to open up WeeMedical because there was demand for it from customers who used the chain elsewhere.
“When our clientele began asking about it, we did some research. I love the community. The demand seemed to be here for it and the want, so I popped her open,” MacPherson said.
He said WeeMedical is expanding and opening stores throughout B.C. WeeMedical even plans to open a store in Gibsons in the future.
MacPherson doesn’t have a business licence for his storefront (neither did Weeds Glass and Gifts at press time) but he says it’s not necessary because WeeMedical operates as a non-profit society. He said any money made by the operation goes to pay the three staff members employed in Sechelt first, and then proceeds go to the charity Splash Water For Life – a machine that makes water from air, which is placed in communities needing access to safe, clean drinking water.
MacPherson admits what he’s doing is illegal under current federal laws, but said he wasn’t willing to wait for those laws to change.
“If you’ve noticed, already Shoppers Drug Mart has [been exploring the possibility of selling medicinal marijuana]. If we wait, we’re out. It’s just that easy, it’s that simple. You have to break ground, you have to risk a little bit, you have to be a little bit on the forefront as a small guy if you’re going to make your mark – because if you don’t, once it goes black and white, big pharma and big tobacco and everybody else will get it,” MacPherson said.
Asked why the District of Sechelt was allowing businesses to set up shop that are still illegal, acting Sechelt mayor Alice Lutes said: “We have no avenue to take because it’s federal laws – the selling of marijuana – so that means we can’t enforce those laws. The only laws we can enforce are our own bylaws.”
Lutes said the District of Sechelt doesn’t currently offer dispensary business licences, but the district has been working with Weeds Glass and Gifts for several months to issue a business licence for the glass and gifts side of its operation.
Once business licences are issued, even for part of the operation, the district has some mechanism to enforce rules through that business licence, which could result in a store closure if rules weren’t being met.
Lutes said the only real way to get a dispensary without a business licence shut down is via the RCMP, which enforces federal laws, although she said the RCMP wouldn’t likely act without complaints being lodged by the public.
To date, Lutes said, the District of Sechelt has not, to her knowledge, lodged any complaints about dispensaries with the Sunshine Coast RCMP.
She admitted the entire issue is complicated and that council would be requesting a report from staff on the dispensaries in Sechelt later this month.
“A report on where everybody’s at as far as business licence compliance, building inspections, all those things that we do have any control over – we’ll ask for a report so then we can take action if that’s appropriate once the report is given to us,” Lutes said.
CHRISTINE WOOD / SENIOR STAFF WRITER
MARCH 3, 2016 11:03 AM