A cash register is adorned with a Canadian flag and imitation marijuana leaves at the BC Marijuana Party Headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Jae C. Hong, AP)

Will Vancouver be Canada’s first to regulate pot shops?

The Canadian government opposes the move, but a Vancouver rep says: 'For us, it’s like the sex trade. We’ve always taken the approach of keeping it above ground so we can watch it.'

Big things are happening in Canadian cannabis. From The Vancouver Sun’s recent reporting on Vancouver’s attempt to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, which would make it the first Canadian city to do so:

Vancouver is about to become the first city in Canada where the business of selling marijuana will be regulated and permitted.

Although the drug is illegal in Canada and technically only available to people by a mail order, prescription system set up by the federal government, the city will permit the operation of dispensaries under a proposed framework that selects which businesses can open and imposes rigid operating conditions.

The proposed regulatory framework, which will take months to implement and still needs council approval, reflects a permissive view by the Vision Vancouver majority that supports access to marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Vancouver’s city council will vote on the measures April 28, “and they will almost certainly be approved,” reports Vice, which goes on to address the Canadian government’s opposing views on the matter.

It comes amid an ongoing battle by marijuana producers to gain a toe-hold in the lucrative Canadian market. The federal government, however, is intent on keeping a lid on the burgeoning pot business, limiting access and charging crushing fees for the producers. Thanks to that system, there are less than two dozen licensed producers across the country, and only 17 of those are permitted to distribute pot, via mail, to patients.

While the new Vancouver rules are pitched as a “crackdown,” promising to shutter as many as a fourth of the shops that currently operate in the city, the federal government is nevertheless furious.

“There are serious health risks associated with smoking marijuana, especially for kids. That is why our Conservative government wants to stop kids from smoking marijuana,” read talking points provided to VICE News by a spokesperson for Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

The Globe and Mail — which said “the number of dispensaries has skyrocketed in the city in the past couple of years from less than a dozen to 80” — spoke to Kerry Jang, the Vision Vancouver councilor/psychiatry professor who is taking the lead on the issue.

Dr. Jang said he estimated that about two-thirds of the stores would have to close or move. But, he said, the number remaining would be enough to serve the market in the city.

“We will try to make sure the good ones stay,” he said. “We have legitimate medical-marijuana users. There’s no way we want to deny legitimate users.”

And it’s better to have regulated dispensaries than a big underground market, he said.

“For us, it’s like the sex trade. We’ve always taken the approach of keeping it above ground so we can watch it.”