The doors at the N.I.C.E. Dispensary are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., though you won't yet find a whiff of cannabis on site.
Justin Cleveland, president of the nonprofit West Coast Green Light Society - the group that runs the shop - says he wants to make sure the community has a chance to find out exactly what the dispensary is about before he begins dispensing medical marijuana.
"People are skeptical until I explain to them what it really is," he said, sitting at a glass table in one of the shop's stark dispensary rooms.
Members of the society renovated the small store at 907A 12th St. in New Westminster earlier this year to create a clinical feel with white walls and information pamphlets neatly stacked in hanging folders.
Staff members wear branded black polo shirts and direct potential clients (or patients, as Cleveland refers to them), to forms they will need to fill out to become members.
For people with debilitating illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, or those undergoing cancer treatment, medical marijuana can provide some relief from pain and help with nausea, Cleveland said.
In the past month, about three or four people have been in on a daily basis, Cleveland said, and he encourages anyone to drop in to find out more about medical marijuana.
Once he has made connections with "compassionate sources," and found at least one supplier, Cleveland plans to offer a menu with a variety of options for taking marijuana.
These will include dry buds to be smoked or vaporized, as well as edibles, tinctures, orals sprays and capsules.
"You don't have to smoke it anymore," he said. "When I tell people that, they are shocked."
Cleveland remembers when his grandfather was being treated for pancreatic cancer and was taking heavy doses of morphine for the pain. He believes marijuana might have been a better option and wants to help others avoid the type of suffering he witnessed.
"The morphine was bad," he said. "It just dulled him; it killed his spirit. Why are we not offering people an alternative?"
There is a stigma attached to using medical marijuana, Cleveland noted, but he hopes to educate the public.
"A lot of people are hesitant because they don't want to be treated differently," he said.
Though he has received positive feedback from neighbouring businesses, Cleveland intends to hold public information meetings in the coming weeks to encourage anyone in the community to meet him and find out how he plans to operate the dispensary.
Not all the feedback he has received has been positive.
The City of New Westminster will not allow the society to display a sign on its storefront because they do not have a business licence.
Cleveland says he will not apply for a business licence because a non-profit is not required to hold a business licence.
The New Westminster Police have also intimated their disapproval of Cleveland's intentions to start selling medical marijuana on site.
At a regular police board meeting on Tuesday evening, Mayor Wayne Wright told board members the proposed dispensary will not be getting approval from his office or from the city.
"They're not going to be allowed in there," said Wright. "They are not going to be going in there."
New Westminster Police Insp. Doug Walcott said there is no legal provision for a medical marijuana dispensary to open up.
He said people who have the legal right to use marijuana for medicinal purposes need to get a licence from Health Canada to consume it or they can designate someone to produce it for them, but they cannot get their medicinal marijuana from a dispensary like the one proposed by the West Coast Green Light Society.
"That unit on 12th Street is not allowed to open," Walcott said.
Cleveland said he has invited the police to one of his upcoming community meetings and hopes representatives will attend.
"I'm not a drug dealer," he said. "If I were a drug dealer,
I wouldn't care how old you are (if you want to become a member). It's why I keep the door open."
So far, the N.I.C.E. Dispensary has received forms from people who have had their doctors fill out the required paperwork needed to become a member of the society.
No one will be able to purchase any medical marijuana before becoming a card-carrying member with photo I.D., said Cleveland.
Most of these people are already authorized by Health Canada to use medical marijuana and are exempt from possession laws for medical reasons, he noted.
The current laws state those who can legally possess medical marijuana must obtain it from the federal government by mail, and it is only in dry bud form, according to Cleveland, who suggested smoking it is not always the healthiest option.
Cleveland said he wants to be able to educate the public about the use of marijuana as one option for health and wellness, and provide it at an affordable rate.
He suggested his goal is not to disturb the peace, but to provide a service to help those in need.
"I'm not an activist," he said. "I've been called a middle-class philanthropist." firstname.lastname@example.org