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Calgary ready for marijuana to roll into town

By Sean Willett, September 10, 2015 —

Calgary took its first tentative steps into the world of medical marijuana this summer with the opening of the 420 Clinic in Inglewood. Fortunately, the city may have a plan ready before Calgary’s first dispensaries open their doors.

The 420 Clinic, which is the first of its kind in Calgary, aims to make it easier for patients diagnosed with conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana to navigate the complex federal rules surrounding the drug. But despite the fact that no marijuana will be kept on site, its presence has already caused a small uproar among less-chill Calgarians.

Some members of the Inglewood business community have voiced concerns about their new neighbour, arguing that it might bring unwanted attention to the area or, perplexingly, that it might cause “picketing.”

City councillor Diane Colley-Urquhart has also voiced concerns about the 420 Clinic. She fears that its presence may lead to medical marijuana dispensaries opening in the city. This has prompted city council to request an official report on how to deal with any dispensaries that may appear in the future.

While the idea of grumpy city councillors trying to crack down on medical marijuana might raise some alarm bells for more pot-friendly Calgarians, regulation will likely be good for the future of dispensaries in the city.

Take Vancouver as a counter-example. Despite the fact that marijuana dispensaries are technically illegal in Canada, dozens have opened up in Vancouver after federal law changes prohibited medical marijuana users from growing their own plants. This means that people with prescriptions for pot need to buy their marijuana from a licensed vendor, creating a new market opportunity for the notoriously weed-friendly city.

But the city of Vancouver only made an effort to regulate these businesses after over 60 of them had already opened. Unsurprisingly, this created an adversarial relationship between the city and both the owners and customers of these businesses. In particular, the city’s decision to make dispensaries pay a new $30,000 business license fee has resulted in many of these businesses needing to close. New rules preventing dispensaries from being clustered in neighbourhoods or from opening near schools have also ruffled feathers.

Not all of these rules are all that bad, though. While the $30,000 fee is a bit egregious, the rules regarding the location of dispensaries are perfectly reasonable. The same rules apply to liquor stores, so it makes sense to apply them to a business selling another kind of drug.

The big problem with how Vancouver handled dispensaries wasn’t the rules themselves — it was their timing. Since these regulations were introduced after these businesses were already established, they forced many of these dispensaries to close, which is why these regulations had so much pushback in the Vancouver community.

Calgary, on the other hand, has a chance to lay down a proper legal groundwork for dispensaries before the situation gets out of hand. With the ever-increasing likelihood that Canada’s federal laws regarding marijuana criminalization may change after this October’s election, the decision to deal with this issue sooner than later is an incredibly prudent one.

This planning and foresight could ensure that Calgary sees a smooth transition into the world of medical marijuana and, in the future, into the world of fully legalized pot.

Of course, there is always the chance that city council goes too far, making it overly difficult for dispensaries to establish a firm foothold in the city. But if done right, dispensaries could open their doors in a city that is already well equipped to handle their presence -— without the fear of anyone harshing their buzz.

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