Sun, May 18, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Canada vending machines serve medical marijuana

COINS FOR CANNABIS:A Vancouver entrepreneur aimed to help patients seeking treatment in what remains a legal gray zone amid changing Canadian law


Medical cannabis is sold “gumball” style from a machine at the BC Pain Society in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Monday last week.

Photo: AFP

The vending machines at a Vancouver storefront look ordinary — but instead of spitting out gum or snacks, for a few coins they deliver medical marijuana.

For C$4 (US$3.70), the brightly lit “gumball” machine drops a plastic ball filled with the “Cotton Candy” variety of the medicine. “Purple Kush” costs C$6.

However, proprietor Chuck Varabioff said the really good stuff, “Pink Kush,” is available from another machine the size of a fridge that delivers a wide range of marijuana in plastic bags heat-sealed for hygiene.

His British Columbia Pain Society is one of about 400 medical marijuana dispensaries in the western Canadian city.

They are all part of a booming medical marijuana industry that operates in a legal gray zone since a Canadian federal court ruling recently overturned Ottawa’s latest attempt to regulate its distribution.

Under the new regulatory regime, as of April 1, about 30,000 home-based growing operations and distributors across Canada are to be replaced by fewer but larger commercial operations.

However, many of the smaller growers and distributors, particularly in westernmost British Columbia, refused to step aside.

The drug is illegal outside of the new regime, Vancouver police said in March, but it is not one of the force’s top priorities — violent and predatory drug traffickers, gangs and hard drugs including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

“Medical marijuana dispensaries operating today in Vancouver do not meet these criteria,” the police statement said.

Official city policy — and to a lesser degree British Columbia government policy — tackles all illegal drugs as a health issue instead of as criminal acts.

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was effectively legalized in Canada in 1999 and its use has been expanded through a series of court challenges.

The dispensaries are relatively new. For generations, cannabis has been produced and sold here as a street drug, including by gangs, and fueled a vibrant underground economy. A decade-old study by an economist for the libertarian Fraser Institute think tank estimated marijuana’s street value at C$7 billion a year in British Columbia.

Back at the British Columbia Pain Society, customers have to be 19 or older, and are required to show a signed form from a medical professional — such as a physician or naturopath — to enter the fenced area where the marijuana is sold. They can take their purchase away, or smoke it at a large table with an air filtration system.

Justin Johnson sat there and inhaled from a glass water pipe.

“I feel stoned, slightly euphoric, a little anxious,” he said with a little smile. “And immediately all the pain I have is gone.”

Johnson said he has relied on marijuana to reduce pain since injuring his back in his former job as a chef. He is now a medical marijuana advocate and setting up a storefront for the Society.

Varabioff hopes to install marijuana vending machines in nursing homes and medical clinics.

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