Published : 2014-05-17 11:21
Updated : 2014-05-17 11:23
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 Can$4 (US$3.70), the brightly lit "gumball" machine drops a plastic ball filled with the so-called "Cotton Candy" variety of the drug. The "Purple Kush" option costs Can$6.
But the really good stuff, said proprietor Chuck Varabioff, is "Pink Kush," 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 pot stores -- which call themselves medical marijuana dispensaries -- in the western Canadian city.
They're all part of a booming medical marijuana industry that operates in a legal gray zone since a federal court ruling recently overturned Ottawa's latest attempt to regulate its distribution.
Under the new regulatory regime, as of April 1, some 30,000 home-based growing operations and distributors across Canada are to be replaced by fewer but larger commercial operations.
Many of the smaller growers and distributors, particularly in westernmost British Columbia province, however, refused to step aside.
The drug is illegal outside of the new regime, Vancouver police said in March, but it's not one of the force's top priorities, which are instead focused on 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 warning said.
Official city policy -- and to a lesser degree British Columbia government policy -- tackles all illegal drugs as a health instead of a criminal issue.
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.
Calls are now growing to also decriminalize recreational marijuana use -- which Canada has prohibited since 1923. (AFP)