'Cool, interesting' pot ads seen as burning issue in Nanaimo

A Nanaimo musician is seeing red over the appearance of a pot-themed parody of the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham in a local cannabis dispensary’s window display.

Shauna McAllister recently told Nanaimo city council about her concerns over the appearance of Green Buds and Hash and Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone at Island Releaf’s storefront window.

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McAllister, a.k.a. alt recording artist Jupiter Jill, said she was shocked to see what initially appeared to be a Dr. Seuss book while walking by the shop at 115 Chapel St.

At a council committee meeting on July 18, she expressed her concerns that storefront advertising such as Dana Larsen’s subversive literary parodies were in effect “making it cool and interesting for teens and kids.”

“Any form of tobacco or smoking or drugs or alcohol needs to be shifted away from young viewers and in a case like this, where it’s a grey area, I say: ‘Let’s make a choice to protect the most vulnerable — your kids,’ ” she said.

“I believe kids are the most vulnerable because of current culture that says ‘Pot smoking’s awesome!’ and ‘Let’s get stoned, man’… that doesn’t work for growing brains.”

McAllister suggested taking measures that retailers of tobacco products do in certain jurisdictions, such as blacking out storefront windows.

She also lamented the growing number of unlicensed “medical marijuana dispensaries” in the Harbour City — more than a dozen — and other operators who actively solicit sales outdoors.

While McAllister said she went to Island Releaf “as a peacemaker” to politely present her case, owner-operator Sheina Criss told a different story.

“She was offensive and intrusive,” recalled Criss, claiming McAllister’s assertions were unfounded. She said the Dr. Seuss parody book was positioned well above a child’s eye level.

“I don’t think what I’m doing is offensive, and I very seldom get children or teens walking by my store. I do respect people in the community, and on Bathtub [Festival] weeks I remove the books.”

Criss, whose merchandise includes pot paraphernalia, shampoo, socks, soaps, deodorants and T-shirts, said her clientele tends to be “more mature” customers in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

She emphasized she doesn’t hawk products on the street like others who invite passersby “to come on in.”

While Mayor Bill McKay and councillors lent McAllister a sympathetic ear, they said it was a challenging issue because the businesses are unlicensed and the federal government has not yet legalized marijuana.

“Because we don’t specifically allow [marijuana retailers], it’s hard to specifically prohibit them, too,” said Coun. Diane Brennan.

While dispensaries are operating within a grey area, city staff are working on a report, said Nelsa Richardson, manager of development support services and business licensing.

She said they hope to present it by late summer or early fall to give council options on how to potentially regulate dispensaries not registered as non-profits.

“It’s a different ball game now because there’s a different federal government in power,” said McKay. He said he plans to spend this week reviewing proposed legislation for Victoria and Vancouver.

“We’re not unlike many communities. I notice there’s even a marijuana dispensary in Sooke. I’m seeing some impatience on behalf of members of council that we’d like to see something done before that [the fall report].”

He said he is “losing patience with the flagrant thumbing of noses at legislators” by operators of stores “that wouldn’t even qualify to meet wine-store requirements in our community.”

McKay, who is hearing growing concern about sellers “wandering up and down the streets with sandwich boards,” said he’s also concerned about where dispensaries are getting illegally sold marijuana.

“Are suppliers to these shops willing to allow federal inspectors?” he said. “And the challenge is you’ve got folks with no medical credentials prescribing something they call a medication.”

He said he had hoped cannabis dispensary operators “would follow some basic rules so that we wouldn’t have to pass them.”

Other dispensaries in Nanaimo include Trees Dispensary and the not-for-profit Phoenix Pain Management Society.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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