Sunshine Coast Leads Canada in Medical Marijuana Cultivation

Sechelt’s 420 Hemp Shop is nestled in the heart of the Sunshine Coast, an area that has been the vanguard for medical marijuana cultivation.

“I’ve handed out hundreds of applications [for medical marijuana-growing licences]to people myself,” said store owner Danny Ownsett. “Local doctors send their patients to me.”

The area — which includes the Sunshine Coast, the southern Gulf Islands, Sea to Sky Country and north Vancouver Island — had the highest concentration of medical-marijuana-growing licences in Canada in 2007.

Those were the last available statistics, so there is no way to know if the region is still pot-central.

But B.C. tops the nation in medical-marijuana users. About 33 out of every 100,000 people in B.C., compared with five per 100,000 in Manitoba, have a marijuana authorization, according to Health Canada.

As of January 2011, there were more than 3,000 licences in B.C.

Ownsett always keeps a few applications handy and happily guides people through the bureaucratic details of filling out the form.

“I’m probably responsible for [the high concentration of licences]on the Coast,” he chuckled.

But he’s not the only reason.

People feel comfortable growing medical marijuana in the relative isolation they enjoy in cottage country, said Ownsett, who holds a licence to grow 49 plants. Medical marijuana is part of his treatment regime for HIV infection.

The Sunshine Coast is a popular retirement community with all the medical problems that attend an aging population.

A quick look down the list of licensees reveals that many growers are in their 60s and suffer from painful illnesses such as arthritis and cancer.

“The Coast also attracts people who have an adventurous streak, who want to escape the rest of the world,” Ownsett said. “We do have quite a collection of growers. I know people who have been doing it for 30 years over here.”

For reference, it has only been legal to grow medical marijuana for 10 years.

The Sunshine Coast community is more accepting of marijuana’s recreational use than most; the annual Bob Marley birthday party at the Roberts Creek Legion is one of the social highlights of the calendar.

“No one has ever come to my store and said ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,’” Ownsett said.

The store carries a small selection of marijuana-growing equipment, gear that can be purchased for only a few hundred dollars.

“Most people want to get started as cheaply as they can,” said Ownsett, leaning over a selection of pipes and smokers’ paraphernalia. As he talked, two young men came in to buy smoking gear while a middle-aged woman pored over the selection of hemp clothing.

Despite a generally high level of acceptance of marijuana use in the community, there aren’t many places outside Roberts Creek where people smoke openly, a phenomenon Ownsett attributes to the presence of the RCMP.

The local Compassion Club, which supplied marijuana to people with a doctor’s medical dispensation, was shut down by the Mounties in 2002.

But as is the case in many of B.C.’s remote communities, the smaller the police force, the more open the drug use becomes.

An hour’s drive and a ferry ride north of Sechelt in Powell River, open marijuana use is much more common, as are both amateur and professional backwoods marijuana plantations.

And Texada Island, just off the coast, is positively bristling with medical-marijuana growers. Locals attribute the concentration of licences on the island to the large community of retirees, but there is a recreational-marijuana industry of note as well.

Texada Timewarp is the island’s local strain of hardy outdoor marijuana, which has been widely praised in cannabis literature for its pain-relieving qualities as well as its potent intoxicating effects.

“The Sunshine Coast, for the most part, is a very cannabis-tolerant community,” said Dana Larsen, the area’s most recent federal NDP candidate. Larsen is a former editor of Cannabis Culture magazine and was a founding member of the B.C. and federal Marijuana Party.

“It’s not very densely populated and there certainly are a lot of retirees and hippies,” Larsen observed of the area’s demographics. “The mills are barely operating, especially when you get up to Powell River, so the hippie culture is on the ascendancy.”

– Article originally from Vancouver Sun.

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