Lower Lonsdale pot shops raise parents’ concerns

Dispensaries operating in grey area of the law

A new medical marijuana dispensary has cropped up in Lower Lonsdale, causing concern for some parents whose kids attend martial arts classes a few doors down.

“The marijuana place has no curtains, it’s all bright and the lights are on and flashing. Anybody who can read can see it,” said Tomasa Cruz, who walks by WeeMedical Dispensary at 109 East First St. four times a week with her 10-year-old daughter Ornella on their way to Champions martial arts academy.

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From what she has observed, Cruz said the dispensary is attracting negative activity in the neighbourhood including more people coming and going, some appearing to be unstable.  On one occasion Cruz said she witnessed a mother and her teenage daughter walk out of WeeMedical with a small brown bag in the younger woman’s hand.

Champions manager Connor Brown told the News he’s “shocked” WeeMedical is allowed to operate on that particular block.

“It’s a residential, homey area and then all the sudden you see that, especially when they have a big sandwich board,” said Brown. “You can definitely smell it (marijuana) more. But yeah, we have definitely had parents be like ‘what the heck.’”

With 150 teenagers taking classes at Champions along with scores of children, Brown said the dispensary is not in an appropriate area. Brown first noticed the shop advertising medical marijuana about three weeks ago, but before that it seemed to him like a place that sold corporate-style water coolers.

There is a business called Water Solutions at the same location as WeeMedical that has a licence for the water company only, confirmed the City of North Vancouver last week. WeeMedical declined an interview with the News.  

Selling pot over the counter, whether for recreational or medicinal purposes, is illegal in Canada. Those that operate dispensaries do so in a grey market and under a compassion club model. In order to obtain the pot, customers must be 19 years old and produce a naturopath or doctor’s written diagnosis of a medical condition for which marijuana eases symptoms.

Weeds Glass and Gifts co-owner Michael Wuest opened two North Vancouver locations last year but said he waited until after the Liberals won the federal election to begin selling medicinal marijuana from shops at 991 Marine Dr. and 143 East Second St., where he has “hundreds” of regular customers.

“We are dispensing, yes,” said Wuest, adding it’s only a matter of time until marijuana becomes legal in Canada.

In the interim, Vancouver has enacted regulations for pot shops and now the City of North Vancouver appears to be following suit. In March, city staff will present a report in a closed-door session and seek direction from council on how to handle medical marijuana sales.

When Weeds opened its doors last spring, licensed as a gift shop, Wuest said he received a personal letter of support from North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto.

“They told me that they were selling paraphernalia, they were not selling marijuana,” said Mussatto in an interview with the News last week. “I support the changes in our laws with the (federal) Liberals supporting more of the decriminalization (and) legalization of marijuana, but I want to be very clear: I am not supportive of breaking the current law.”

Wuest said his business licence contains a caveat: the store is not supposed to sell marijuana. When asked if the city could revoke Weeds’ licence, Mussatto said it could be an option.

“So if they’re saying that they’re selling marijuana there — that’s illegal and the police will be taking appropriate action,” said Mussatto.
B.C. RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said he can’t speak specifically about North Vancouver but any business found to be breaking Canada’s current laws around controlled substances may be subject to investigation and criminal charges.

Wuest said he procures his medical marijuana from “mostly licensed producers,” and then inspects the product using a microscope for mould and other contaminants.

“Sometimes you find spider mites and all sorts of weird things,” he said.

Advertising medical marijuana sales won’t make the local Weeds shops a target for criminals, added Wuest, who explained they don’t keep “pounds and pounds” of cannabis at the store.

Mussatto said the city would not benefit financially from medical marijuana shops. Coun. Pam Bookham, meanwhile, said it’s in the city’s interest to look at zoning bylaws for where medical marijuana sales should be allowed and has “real concern” about the potential proliferation of pot shops in Lower Lonsdale.  

“We are seeing some very positive changes in that community and we don’t want to see counterproductive forces at play,” said Bookham.

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