Right now in Canada, Vancouver city council is licensing "gray market" cannabis dispensaries while the RCMP in Nanaimo is threatening to shutter similar businesses and arrest owners, workers and customers for violating Canada's drug laws.
Confused? You're not alone.
To make sense of this situation, we've put together a what-you-need-to-know list about medicinal cannabis in Canada.
Is medical marijuana legal in Canada?
Yes - but there are a lot of catches (read below).
When did it become legal?
In the late 1990s, seriously ill and dying patients pressed the Canadian government for exemption from the nation's cannabis laws so they could use marijuana to alleviate pain.
In July 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that prohibiting people from growing and using cannabis for valid medical purposes was unconstitutional. The following year, Health Canada introduced the Marihuana [sic] Medical Access Regulations, which allowed patients throughout Canada to purchase and use cannabis.
Who grows it?
When Health Canada legalized medical marijuana, patients were initially allowed to grow plants at home for personal use. In 2001, there were only 100 licensed patients, but by 2014, the number rose to approximately 37,000. That spike made the government worry about the number of unregulated grow ops across the country.
In order to limit and control the cultivation of cannabis, Health Canada repealed the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations and replaced them in April 2014 with the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.
The new rules eliminate licenses for personal cultivation, forcing patients to purchase cannabis through a commercial grower. Patients were told to destroy their seeds and home-grown plants. But many refused, arguing that the new system infringes on their rights and jeopardizes their health.
The dispute has led to a legal standoff in which a federal court in BC will decide whether Health Canada's ban on home cultivation is constitutional. In the meantime, patients are allowed to continue growing their own plants.
How can you get it?
What can patients order?
Before June 2015, patients could only purchase dried flower. But on Jun. 11, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to prohibit patients from ingesting cannabis through oils and edibles. Smoking cannabis, the court acknowledged, wasn't effective for some conditions and posed health risks (i.e. from inhaling smoke).
Are storefront dispensaries legal?
No, any sale of cannabis outside of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations is currently illegal in Canada. That means the dispensaries in Nanaimo and elsewhere are obtaining and selling cannabis illegally. But whether the law is enforced is up to each region and its police force. Saskatoon and Nanaimo have taken hardline stances against dispensaries, while Vancouver is allowing certain dispensaries to operate - provided they meet regulations. On Nov. 19, Victoria city council will vote on a bylaw that would allow storefront dispensaries to continue operating.
But cities across the country will likely become more lenient when Justin Trudeau's government legalizes and regulates cannabis in Canada.
How long have illegal dispensaries been operating?
Since these businesses operate outside the law, it's difficult to pinpoint when the first one opened shop. But the city of Vancouver has had illegal dispensaries since at least the late 1990s.
Why are there illegal dispensaries?
Storefront dispensaries allow patients to get cannabis quicker than the mail-order system. Staff can also help patients choose the right strain for their conditions. And many patients prefer in-person service: "Seeing them face-to-face is way better," a dispensary client named Bobby told CKOM Saskatoon. "You're humanized. You don't get that through Health Canada, with them it's 'these are the products this is what you can order.'"
What about recreational use?
Sorry folks, right now, despite electing a pro-legalization government, recreational use of cannabis in Canada is still against the law. But that's soon to change.