Trailblazers 2019: Medicinal-cannabis proponent Dori Dempster says public is being harmed by bad bylaws

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Dori Dempster heads one of the last bastions of fair access to cannabis in Vancouver.

As the executive director of the Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, she is responsible for managing two of the city’s longest-standing and leading pot shops.

In 2008, after several years as both a medical consumer and mail-order clerk at Dana Larsen’s Vancouver Seed Bank, she was asked by the activist to join his new dispensary.

“When Dana asked, it was a big ‘Yes,’ because as a patient I knew there were needs not being met by the existing clubs and I wanted to help fill some of those gaps and pull back the curtains to normalize this plant,” she tells the Straight. She has since spent the past 11 years providing frontline access to the city’s community of medical- and recreational-cannabis consumers.

Currently, only three shops are licensed by the municipality to provide cannabis in Vancouver, where once a web of more than 100 dispensaries operated with a patchwork of licences. Due to new promotional restrictions, these few legal stores are limited in the products they can provide and cannot issue any information on the plant’s effects or dosing. A few unlicensed stores, including Dempster’s, have stayed open to meet the needs of consumers and patients looking for information, education, and support.

“It just seems unreal to me that they’re shutting down medicinal-cannabis dispensaries simply because they’ve put in a bad set of bylaws that they now feel they need to adhere to. And people are being harmed,” she says.

If the City of Vancouver had its way, her shop would be boarded up too. While talking to a Straight reporter last year, Dempster dropped a binder brimming with citations onto her desk with a heavy thunk. It contained notices of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of fines, as well as a recent order from a B.C. Supreme Court judge mandating that all illicit stores close—including those providing medical services.

Dempster says her stores now see in excess of 400 customers a day each, where they once serviced an average of 100. Despite the risk, she intends to stay open.

“What keeps me going is the fear of going backwards and the fear of people hurting and dying,” she says with determination. “I am more afraid of closing my doors, and people dying as a result, than I am of facing a judge or the consequences for doing the right thing."

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