Island Health orders pot shops to stop selling edible cannabis products

Island Health is ordering Victoria marijuana dispensaries to stop making and selling cannabis food products after receiving a complaint about one business.

Island Health inspected Gorge Medijuana Dispensary on Gorge Road on March 14 after receiving a complaint about sanitation and cannabis food products, said business owner James Whitehead.

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Whitehead said he met with representatives from Island Health and the City of Victoria the day after the inspection and agreed to stop selling edibles.

The business now displays a notice from Island Health that reads: “We regret to inform you that edible cannabis foods will no longer be available at any Medijuana Dispensaries.” The notice goes on to say that Island Health is banning the sale of edible cannabis because cannabis is not recognized as a food ingredient in the Food and Drugs Act.

“Although Medijuana was the first dispensary to received notice of this new rule, VIHA will be enforcing this ban across Vancouver Island,” the notice says.

Island Health has not banned the sale of pills or oils.

Andrew Gill, manager of Farmacy on Hillside Avenue, called Island Health’s ban “ridiculous.”

Gill said the dispensaries sells edible items, including baked goods, gummies and spreads, to many older people with insomnia or chronic pain from conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Edibles are also popular with people who don’t want the smell of marijuana wafting in their home, he said.

Whitehead said edibles such as chocolate bars, brownies and cookies made up only a small fraction of the products sold by his dispensary, and said he has concerns with the way edibles are being sold.

“I don’t necessary agree with edibles in the way they’ve proliferated across the city,” said Whitehead, who is applying for rezoning and a business licence under the City of Victoria’s bylaws for marijuana businesses.

The City of Vancouver, which pioneered regulations for marijuana businesses, has banned edibles, but the City of Victoria has not followed suit.

There is no specific reference to edibles in the City of Victoria’s bylaws, said Mayor Lisa Helps, because it’s Island Health’s responsibility to regulate food products.

“What I do hope is that the federal government as soon as possible passes the legislation [to legalize marijuana] so that everyone is clear on what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Helps said.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that medical marijuana can be legally consumed in a range of ways, including through edibles and oils, and not just in its dried form.

However, this ruling applies only to the ability to obtain oils from a cannabis grower licensed by Health Canada and does not apply to pot shops, which remain illegal until the federal government introduces legislation to legalize marijuana.


City cracking down on unlicensed dispensaries 

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is warning that any medical marijuana businesses that have not yet applied for rezoning or a business licence could be shut down.

The city’s regulations for cannabis retailers took effect in November and allowed a 60-day grace period for businesses to comply with the new rules.

That exemption period has expired, and 16 cannabis businesses have not applied for rezoning.

“That makes me mad, that actually makes me angry,” Helps said. “We spent a year working in consultation with the businesses to develop the regulations.

“It really is a detriment to the whole industry that 16 out of 39 can’t be bothered to submit a rezoning application. To me that says they’re not legitimate businesses — if they were, they would follow the rules.”

The city will go to court to seek an injunction to shut them down, Helps said.

As of Friday, 33 marijuana businesses had applied for a business licence, which costs $5,000, and 23 had applied for rezoning, which costs $7,500.

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