Closed in Parksville by the RCMP, medical marijuana dispensary looks to neighbouring communities

Phoenix won't say exactly where they might set up shop, however

Phoenix Pain Management Society — Parksville’s medical pot dispensary that was raided and shut down by Mounties earlier this month — may be moving to a neighbouring community.

“We’re going to try to be welcomed into a community close by Parksville,” confirmed the dispensary’s managing director Akil Pessoa Friday morning from Nanaimo.

While he declined to say what neighbouring community he intends to set up shop in, Pessoa offered “we want to make sure everything is hammered down, that we’ve dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s” before making a presentation to a local council.

He said North Nanaimo and locations surrounding Parksville are options for the dispensary’s new site, noting Parksville isn’t out of the question either.

This comes after Oceanside RCMP raided Phoenix’s dispensary at the end of Middleton Avenue April 2, seizing dried marijuana, marijuana derivatives and cash.

Police arrested Karl Mitchell, one of the dispensary’s volunteer staff members, who was later released on a promise to appear in Nanaimo Provincial Court.

The building remains empty with a bright red city bylaw notice on the front door stating: “this property has been used in respect of the manufacture, ingestion, use, sharing, sale, trade, or barter of a controlled substance.”

Last week, the City of Vancouver made headlines with city staff’s proposal to enact regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, of which the city has approximately 80.

The regulations would see cannabis retailers pay a $30,000 licensing fee, notify the public before opening a store that must be located at least 300 metres from schools, community centres and each other.

Pessoa, and many pot activists, have been fighting for the right to operate medical marijuana dispensaries despite the fact that they’re illegal.

He called Vancouver’s proposed regulations “a good thing” but noted there are finer details to look into to make the regulations work for dispensary operators.

“Like any new regulatory policy all the nuances haven’t been thought through,” said Pessoa. “On the upside there’s a regulatory model on the table that can be debated and used as a touch point for others — these are all extremely good things.”

But Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre said despite Vancouver’s stance, he won’t be following suit.

“I’ll never agree to a dispensary because they aren’t allowed to sell drugs and that’s why the RCMP shut them down,” Lefebvre told The NEWS. “Right now the law is very clear on that.”

Canadian medical marijuana users have had a hazy year.

Under the old rules, the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) medical marijuana licence holders were allowed to grow their own pot or find designated growers.

Those regulations were to be replaced in April of last year with a new program called the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which directs medical pot patients to purchase their cannabis from federally-licenced Health Canada approved facilities.

However, a court injunction was granted at the 11th hour keeping the MMAR program alive for existing patients after an uproar from licence holders who claimed the new rules were unfair.

Advocates are eagerly awaiting a court decision.

Meanwhile, a University of British Columbia (UBC) Cannabis Access Regulations study is examining how new federal pot regulations in Canada impact a patient’s access to medical cannabis.

UBC PhD student Rielle Capler, who is spearheading the study, called access to medical marijuana a “complex and contentious” issue.

Capler confirmed “some patients spoke to us of the difficulties they were having with legal access” to medical marijuana, a reason many turn to dispensaries and likely a cause of the recent proliferation of dispensaries in Canada.

“There were a number of patients who participated in our study that were using cannabis therapeutically outside of the legal regulations,” she said. “This doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t access it legally — our analysis will shed more light on why they were not accessing it under the federal rules.”

Capler confirmed the study is in preliminary stages and will be complete in a few months.

— With files from Auren Ruvinsky and Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

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