Members of the Phoenix Pain Management Society marched to Parksville city hall on Thursday to speak with Mayor Marc Lefebvre about policing priorities around medical marijuana.

Pot dispensary debate heats up in Parksville

Medical marijuana proponents march on city hall; mayor says it's not the municipality's jurisdiction; federal election candidates weigh in

Eight medical marijuana users went to Parksville city hall Thursday in support of a compassion club, but were told “municipalities have little power over the issue,” by Mayor Marc Lefebvre.

The supporters and patients of Phoenix Pain Management Society like John Whitlock asked that the city “considers asking police to shift their priorities, based on the people’s will.”

(Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter was scheduled to appear before Parksville city council Monday night. See Thursday’s edition of The NEWS for a report on that meeting.)

With a federal election on the horizon, and marijuana legislation in flux, The NEWS asked candidates about their stance on Phoenix’s Parksville location.

Vancouver Island North incumbent Conservative MP John Duncan, who is running in the new Courtenay-Alberni riding that includes Parksville Qualicum Beach, said he’s “not a fan” of pot dispensaries.

“We (the Conservative Party) have moved to ensure these kinds of facilities are not in existence so any that are in existence are only there because people are choosing to ignore the law,” said Duncan, adding the government has “created circumstances for the production of medical marijuana (through Health Canada).”

He said Health Canada has a “distribution methodology and anything else is improper and not legal.” Duncan said “in contrast certainly to the Liberal position,” he doesn’t support legalizing marijuana in the future.

Duncan said his government has “been quite professional in how we’ve addressed the issue (of medical marijuana).”

However, Liberal Party candidate and former Parksville city councillor Carrie Powell-Davidson said “the Conservative’s approach to marijuana is failing our communities.”

She insisted “our broader message is going to be on the failure of the Conservative policy … the system is clearly broken and the Liberals are going to address it.”

While she said the Liberal’s “clear solution” is to tax and regulate marijuana in the future, Powell-Davidson wasn’t on board with Phoenix’s set up.

“If they are not a legal operation then the answer is no (they shouldn’t be allowed to operate within Parksville),” she said. “It’s unfortunate that this business, or service, has been deemed illegal but I’m not going to second guess the RCMP.”

Like Powell-Davidson, NDP candidate Gord Johns blamed the Conservative government for “failing” Canadians and “launching the war on drugs.”

Johns said “in terms of a compassion centre (or marijuana dispensary) when it is well-run, it can be a trusted source for people to get medicine … No Canadian should have a criminal record for marijuana use.”

Asked if Phoenix should be allowed to operate within city limits despite being illegal, Johns said “each individual dispensary is different and I think it’s unfair for me to comment … it’s a national issue and local governments and law enforcement are left in a grey area because of our (current) federal government, the war on drugs has failed.”

He said he wants to see marijuana decriminalized in the future claiming “historically the NDP has been leading the charge on marijuana for four decades … it’s clear this conversation needs to happen sooner than later.”

Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Glen Sollitt said he supports the legalization of marijuana in Canada.

“Clearly prohibition is not working,” said Sollitt. “I can’t identify enough problems with marijuana to continue to make it an illegal substance, it does less damage than other stimulants that are legal.”

He pointed to what he called “the successes” of marijuana legalization in some American states, saying “it’s a model that clearly can and does work and it’s incumbent on us to move in that direction.”

That being said, in terms of Parksville’s dispensary, Sollitt said “I don’t support an illegal operation and I don’t think it’s fair to ask the RCMP to look the other way, I don’t think we should treat any law that way.”

The Phoenix Pain Management Society members marched to city hall Thursday with Nanaimo singer songwriter Cameron Gunn signing “Please Mr. Mayor, can we have our medicine,” after a promise the previous week to attend every scheduled Coffee with Council drop-in meeting until Mayor Marc Lefebvre changes his stance on the dispensary and directs Oceanside RCMP to “de-prioritize” the operation. “Your issue really is with the federal government, you should be going to the MP’s office,” Lefebvre told the group, reiterating previous statements that, “I and the rest of the city can do absolutely nothing for you, it’s not within our purview, it’s not within our jurisdiction.”

Asked “If it was in your purview would you do something about it?” Lefebvre said “I’d have to listen to the RCMP, he’s (Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter) my commanding officer, he’s the chief of police for the city of Parksville and I have an obligation to respect what the chief of police gives me in terms of advice.”

“In other cities the RCMP have changed their priorities, where they’re not prosecuting these people,” said society managing director Akil Pessoa. “Can you please have this conversation and have the RCMP reallocate their resources?”

The Phoenix supporters said they will keep going back Thursday’s at 2 p.m. until the city is willing to allow the compassion club to remain open, which Pessoa said is not distributing medical marijuana in Parksville, but helping patients get it from their Nanaimo branch.

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