Exploring the Colourful Cannabis History in Vancouver: From Counterculture Roots to Legalization

Vancouver’s history with cannabis is unlike most other cities in the world let alone the country. Prior to legalization in 2018, Vancouver’s cannabis laws were in a state of flux. While cannabis was prohibited under Canadian federal law, Vancouver took a somewhat lenient approach to its enforcement, especially when it came to cannabis stores and the use of cannabis in public.

The city of Vancouver began experiencing a proliferation of “Grey Area” cannabis stores in the early 2000s. These were storefronts that sold cannabis products openly to customers, despite technically operating in violation of federal law. These stores were not officially licensed or regulated, but they were tolerated to some extent by local authorities. These stores ran like any other business in the city, with full-time employees, suppliers and of course customers, very happy ones at that. While from the outside everything looked completely legit, it wasn’t technically legal.

The city implemented a regulatory framework for these stores, known as “Vancouver’s Medical Marijuana-Related Use (MMRU) Store Bylaw,” in 2015. This bylaw allowed stores to apply for a business license and remain open if they met certain criteria, such as not operating near schools, parks, or community centres and not selling to minors. However, it’s important to note that this bylaw was not officially sanctioned by the federal government, and cannabis remained illegal under Canadian federal law until legalization in 2018. This meant that while some stores were able to operate with relative impunity in Vancouver under the city’s bylaw, they were technically still at risk of federal law enforcement action.

The first cannabis store in Vancouver where I worked would be visited by by-law officers daily, who would hand out fines from the city, which the store would pay regularly. This somewhat informal agreement with the city of Vancouver gave employees a sense of job security, knowing that cannabis stores were contributing to the city’s revenue. However, the constant threat of being shut down loomed over the staff, as the city could take action at any time.

Within a day, you’d go from being fully employed to out back on the job hunt without any warning. Luckily, there was no shortage of “Illegal” Cannabis shops all over Vancouver and if you had experience, it wouldn’t be long before you’d be able to find another job. Even with a new seemingly secure job though, the worry of it being shut down would always loom over the staff.

Since cannabis became legal in Canada, everything has changed. Vancouver still has an abundance of Cannabis shops, but the majority of them have gone the fully licensed legal route. It was a rocky start, as there wasn’t much variety and the pricing did not reflect the “Grey” Markets. As the years have gone by, we’ve seen significant improvement in terms of quality, variety and pricing of legal cannabis. Now almost anyone can walk into a legal cannabis store in Vancouver and find something they’re looking for without breaking the bank and leave with a high-quality cannabis product. Kootenay Cannabis is a great example of one of these stores that offers some of the best cannabis products and accessories on the market, at the best price. Next time you’re around Kingsway in Vancouver be sure to stop by and see what legal cannabis is all about.