The Rebuttal: Do Cannabis Dispensaries Outnumber Starbucks In Vancouver?

Terence Young, the Conservative MP for Oakville defending his seat in Canada's Oct. 19 federal election, caused controversy at an all-candidates debate Oct. 7 when he said in Vancouver, "There are more illegal marijuana stores than Starbucks."

His remarks raise two questions: are the cannabis dispensaries in Vancouver illegal? And are there really more places to buy an ounce of cannabis than a venti latte?

Are they illegal?

Yes and no. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada limits the cultivation and sale of cannabis to licensed producers and distributors who sell medicinal marijuana through a mail-order system.

So the sale of any cannabis through a store is illegal, and most of the product being sold in Vancouver was also obtained illegally.

However, the city of Vancouver is a bit of a marijuana maverick. When illegal dispensaries sprouted up, law enforcers and city councillors opted to intervene only when the "gray market" posed a threat to public safety (e.g. by selling cannabis to minors). That approach, however, caused the number of dispensaries to balloon (as you can see from this chart):

Are there more dispensaries than Starbucks?

It's difficult to say how many illegal dispensaries opened because - as illegal operations - they didn't have business licenses.

The estimates ranged from 80 to more than 100 shops. In contrast, the city has 91 licensed Starbucks locations, so Young's claim may or may not be correct.

To combat the spike in "gray market" outlets, the city of Vancouver began a licensing program last April. While 176 applications for licenses were received by the August deadline, only a fraction will be approved. It's not clear if these 176 businesses are currently in operation.

According to Kerry Jang, the councillor overseeing applications, only 15-20 licenses will be granted due to the city's strict regulations: owners must have clean criminal records, and shops cannot operate within 300 meters of schools, community centers, or other dispensaries.

The rest will be required to close after the licenses are issued in December 2015. But those who are denied permission to continue business will have a chance to appeal the city's ruling, so the number of semi-legal dispensaries won't decline immediately.

So when city hall gets its way, there will be more Starbucks than regulated dispensaries in Vancouver.

'The Rebuttal' is a regular feature that takes the statements of politicians and tests them against the facts at hand. Do you have suggestions for statements we should fact-check. Leave a comment below. Twitter: @civilized_life. Facebook: Civilized

h/t iPolitics, Globe and Mail, Straight, CTV News


Right now, cannabis can only be legally purchased through dispensaries or online retailers, but that could change if a group representing corner stores across America gets its way. The lobbying arm of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is preparing to fight for the ability of their members to sell weed once it becomes federally legal in America. NACS doesn't have support for federal cannabis policy reform on their official agenda, but that doesn't mean they don't want a piece of the pie if the industry is legalized nationwide.

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