The owners of a new Edmonton cannabis information centre hope they can spark the city’s interest in permitting local retail marijuana sales.
The Green Room opened a storefront operation at 8126 Gateway Blvd. last month that gives medical marijuana advice and Skype consultations with a Vancouver doctor. It also sells memberships so people can buy products at the company’s six B.C. dispensaries.
“We’re here to provide information to people seeking access and consultation with a health-care practitioner … in hopes of becoming a dispensary once the city allows it,” Green Room president Frederick Pels said.
“We have kind of strategically placed ourselves here.”
Federal law now requires medical marijuana purchases to be shipped by one of 37 registered producers, although the government has promised to introduce legislation this spring legalizing recreational pot.
The legalization task force report released in December recommended provinces and territories collaborate with municipalities to regulate sales, with density and location limits to keep stores a suitable distance from schools, community centres and parks.
Medical marijuana dispensaries have opened across the country despite the existing rules, with cities taking different approaches to the issue.
Vancouver began issuing business licences to some dispensaries last year and has almost 100 outlets, some approved, some waiting for development permits and most run without any permission at all.
Toronto, on the other hand, raided dozens of dispensaries starting in May, seizing hundreds of kilograms of marijuana and related products and charging owners and employees with drug trafficking.
Police in Edmonton laid charges in 2015 after raiding a long-time medical marijuana dispensary on 118 Avenue.
Pels, co-owner of Vancouver-based Green Room, says he wants to be established in good locations when pot shops are allowed on Edmonton streets, even if this takes another year.
The Old Strathcona site employs six people and has signed up about 1,000 members, he says.
He plans to open two more sites in Edmonton and two in Calgary by spring, as well as six this year in other Canadian cities.
“The reason why we’re pushing ahead is the municipalities have been receptive to certain things,” he says.
“It’s all speculation at this point, but we’re fairly confident Edmonton and Calgary will lead the charge to regulate dispensaries.”
However, city councillors say they don’t want to jump into this field before the federal government acts.
“He’s asking the City of Edmonton to allow him to sell marijuana when the feds haven’t said it’s legal? That’s ridiculous,” says Coun. Dave Loken, chair of Reach Edmonton’s marijuana committee.
“I think it’s rather premature and very presumptuous of any group to think we’re going to cast a blind eye to that.”
Councillors are waiting for a report in February on what planning, licensing and other civic rules are in place to deal with dope once sales are legalized.
Loken says his committee, which includes Epcor, the planning department, police, the province and other organizations, told the pot task force municipalities will need more support.
“Anybody who thinks they can open something up beforehand obviously would be in violation (of the law).”
Coun. Scott McKeen, a member of the police commission, also wants to wait for the law to change.
“How can we be fair so all the people who would love to be in the business are treated equitably? Does this business get in because it’s the first out of the gate?” McKeen asked.
“My preference would be for the first five or 10 years that this be done in a tightly controlled way, perhaps through government-run stores. Otherwise, it’s just going to go crazy.”
But Pels says he’s working with city officials on a way to do things properly.
He expects Edmonton will put restrictions on pot shops similar to those for liquor stores, which generally must be 500 metres apart and at least 100 metres from schools.
“It’s a gamble, but we’re thinking with the way Edmonton has been communicating with us, this will be in the very near future a dispensing location.”