Dispensaries: Then and Now

The British Columbia Compassion Club Society. Imedikate. Westcoast Medicann. Urban Earth Med. Yaletown Medical Dispensary. Vancouver Pain Mangement Society. The Medical Cannabis Dispensary.

Some of the names listed above may be familiar to Vancouver residents, while others may not be. In the last decade citizens have witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of medical cannabis dispensaries that operate within the city limits of Vancouver. However, the neighbouring municipalities of Coquitlam,  New Westminster, North Vancouver and Surrey have seen no such increase in their jurisdictions. When it seems as if a new cannabis dispensary establishes itself in Vancouver almost every other month, it must be asked why dispensaries outside of metro Vancouver, such as the Natural Path Society of Coquitlam, N.I.C.E. of New Westminster and the [DEEP COVE ONE] seem unanimously doomed to failure.


The British Columbia Compassion Club Society (BCCCS)  was the first medical cannabis dispensary to open in Vancouver and began operating in 1997. Established as a non-profit society, the BCCCS has grown into the largest dispensary in Canada over the last 15 years and serves over 5,000 members. It’s services are not limited to the provision of medical marijuana (to those possessing a certified medical Doctor’s recommendation), however. The BCCCS provides: acupuncture, counselling, nutrition, herbal medicine, reiki, craniosacral and massage therapy, and yoga to the community, using the revenue from cannabis sales to subsidize these treatments, which can otherwise be prohibitively expensive for users. In 2010, nearly 4,000 members used these services with 88% of the total cost subsidized. In addition, the BCCCS developed a voluntary, but comprehensive “Guidelines for the Community-Based Distribution of Medical Cannabis”.


The dispensary model put forward by the BCCCS has since been widely acclaimed as the “poster child” of responsible, community-focused medical cannabis provision. Almost all dispensaries operating within Vancouver offer alternative health services or a fast track to them, as well as a sliding scale of payment for those low-income residents in need of treatment. The success of the BCCCS model of community-based, health-conscious and low-income considerate medical cannabis access has influenced the [dozens] of dispensaries to follow and helped counter the perception of dispensaries as commercial “pot shops” and “legalized drug dealers” concerned solely with profits.


In fact, many fears associated with dispensaries have been disproven over time. Far from being a source of problems for communities, the actions of the BCCCS and others have established a very positive presence in and valuable service to the community. In addition, as dispensaries provide a safe, judgement-free and health-positive environment in which members can administer cannabis treatment, away from the eyes of the community and children. Dispensaries do not cause an influx of crime into a community. Far to the contrary, a medical dispensary is a “street dealer’s” worst nightmare. Dispensaries decrease the need for medical users of cannabis to buy from illegal street vendors and the positive relationship that many dispensaries have with local law enforcement make the area an unprofitable and potentially dangerous place to operate; if one is a criminal.


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