By Alex: As former residents of Amsterdam, we’re accustomed to the notion of “tolerated” marijuana and “coffee shops.” But on our recent visit to Vancouver we were a little surprised to encounter North American coffee shops and pot dispensaries. Given California has had medical marijuana for several years and Colorado and Washington state recently legalized recreational marijuana, I was curious to examine what the cannabis laws in British Columbia were like. For journalistic purposes only, I decided to explore this phenomenon a little further.
The Green Panda cannabis dispensary, in downtown Vancouver, was a short walk from where we were staying on beautiful Coal Harbor, which I stumbled upon by chance while strolling for a lunch spot. Appropriately, a delicious Belgium Waffle shop operates right next to Green Panda and a Dutch pancake shop sits just a couple businesses down. Upon entering, I was greeted with the aroma of fresh marijuana and a friendly shop assistant behind the counter.
“So how does this work? Do I need a prescription for marijuana?” I asked. “No. All you need is proof that you take medication for anxiety or a number of other conditions from either a doctor or a holistic healer” said the chipper assistant. She then handed me a form with a long list of conditions ranging from cancer treatment to insomnia and migraines. It became immediately clear that the setup was pretty grey. “Does the note or medication bottle need to be from a Canadian doctor?” I asked. “No, proof from an American doctor works too” she replied.
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Exploring Marijuana Laws in Vancouver Continued
I spoke with the assistant at Green Panda for about 10 minutes and she informed me that they just opened in July, 2014 and that dispensaries had been in operation in Vancouver since 2010. “We have a heroine problem in this city and in order to protect users from contracting hepatitis or HIV there are clinics that teach users how to inject cleanly. The clinics basically set up everything but the injections. So cannabis dispensaries are small potatoes as long as we operate respectably, meaning you need to have a chronic condition that marijuana can treat- you show photo ID and we provide you with a membership card.”
If you’re visiting Vancouver and have virtually any medical condition (say foot pain from wearing high heals), stop in and check out the dispensaries, prices are very reasonable. Baked goods cost $6 Canadian ($5 US) and on Tuesdays, Green Panda offers a buy 1 get 1 free on their cannabis edibles. Pre-rolled joints range from $4-$10 and grams run from $10-$14. The shop runs a different daily special and on Thursdays (the day I visited), it was a free gram when you purchased a larger amount. It was interesting to see marijuana sales run on a North American business model because the concepts of buy 1 get 1 free and bonus grams would sparsely exist in Dutch coffee shops.
Recreational marijuana use is technically still illegal in Vancouver and apparently another reason the government isn’t cracking down on the dispensaries is that there was a complaint by many patients with serious medical conditions about easy access to marijuana. So if a dispensary sells cannabis for no ambiguous medical reason, and the government catches them, they can shut their doors. With the prevalence of prescriptions for pain, anxiety and sleeplessness in the USA and given cannabis actually helps people with serious chronic conditions, it’s high time for some grey times in other states and provinces in North America. Better luck in 2016 Florida.
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