As the federal government works to bring its marijuana legalization plan to life, municipalities across the country are struggling with how to police dispensaries that are still technically illegal.
Both West Kelowna and Penticton have recently shut down dispensaries within their municipal boundaries, but researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus are cautioning against such actions.
Associate professor Zach Walsh, who teaches psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, and PhD candidate Rielle Capler, say many people who use pot for “therapeutic purposes” prefer to get it from storefront dispensaries.
The pair’s research, which was recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, looked at more than 440 therapeutic cannabis users, and how they prefer to get their product.
Participants in the study were asked to compare different methods of purchasing cannabis on a number of factors such as quality of product, safety, availability, efficiency and feeling respected.
Those participants rated dispensaries highly across most categories, with the only prominent negative being that the cost of dispensary product is often higher than from a street dealer.
“Dispensaries are not new and they provide a proven, valuable service,” Capler says. “While some are thought of as a nuisance, in reality many of these dispensaries are small, independent, long-standing businesses who serve a dedicated clientele.”
While operating under the shadows of provincial laws and city bylaws, Capler and Walsh suggest dispensaries have thrived in neighbourhoods across Canada.
Capler calls the current method a “natural experiment” that’s been underway for decades, and says lawmakers should keep that in mind when addressing regulation policies.
“Clearly dispensaries are already playing a big role in cannabis access in Canada,” she says. “The provincial and municipal governments will have to either look at including them in a legal framework—or drawing on what’s working in dispensaries as they build a new model. We want to think this paper may, in some way, guide policy to create a system that works.”
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