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Medical marijuana dispensary opens in Burnaby; Emery denied transfer to Canada

On the same day that Burnaby saw the gala opening of its first dispensary for medical cannabis, and in the wake of a recent Ontario court ruling that struck down Canada’s pot prohibition as unconstitutional, supporters of Vancouver pot activist Marc Emery, imprisoned for selling mail order marijuana seeds, learned that the United States government had denied his application for a transfer from the US to the Canadian prison system.

"This is a sad day for everyone," Jacob Hunter, of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation told the Tyee on Friday, speaking from the opening day of Burnaby’s first medical marijuana dispensary at 4927 Kingsway on Friday, April 15. "Mark Emery is looking at five years in a US prison for selling seeds, which ought to be legal."

Five new users had registered at the Burnaby facility by mid-afternoon, when the Tyee spoke with Hunter. He said that a government funded survey estimates that there are over a million Canadians using marijuana for medicinal purposes, with only 6,000 of them holding Health Canada permits and only 30,000 registered with dispensaries across the country.

The flaws in the current government regime for medical pot played a big role in the recent Ontario ruling, with Justice Donald Taliano telling the Toronto Star that Canadian doctors have "massively boycotted" the medical marijuana program and largely refuse to sign off on forms giving sick people access to necessary medication.

In BC, Hunter said, about 1500 medical users are registered with Health Canada, and about 10,000 are registered with dispensaries across the province. He estimates that over 200,000 British Columbians regularly use cannabis for medical purposes.

"We looked around Burnaby and recognized that this is BC's third largest city, but it has no access to medical marijuana," said Britney Anne, director of the Metrotown Medicinal Society, which operates the Kingsway dispensary. "Patients shouldn't have to go all the way to Vancouver to buy their medicine, so we decided rather than just complain about it, we'd do something to help."

Meanwhile, preparations are underway in Vancouver for a public smoke-in event known as "4/20." The event, which occurs around the world on April 20 each year, has become an iconic public celebration of cannabis and its pleasures, with pot activists gathering to smoke together. Vancouver's version of 4/20 will be held at the Vancouver Art Gallery at Georgia and Howe, and will run from 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

In what Hunter describes as a "brave decision," the city of Vancouver has extended formal cooperation to the event, and will close Howe Street from Robson to Georgia to accommodate the overflow crowds of cheerful smokers, which has, in years past, drifted out into Georgia and stopped traffic.

"The VPD have assured us," Hunter said, "that their priority will be public safety, not making pot arrests. They recognize this is a serious political event and that those who choose to smoke at a 4/20 celebration are exercising their Charter-protected expression rights."

Tom Sandborn welcomes feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net

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