Bob Kay in Kelowna, B.C., has been operating a medical marijuana dispensary, running the risk of a police raid. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘It’s not evil’: ‘Bud Empire’ aims to remove stigma around pot dispensaries

TORONTO — Bob Kay feels a twinge of fear every day as he runs his business in Kelowna, B.C., but he charges forward knowing he’s helping people ease their pain.

For the past 10 years Kay has been operating a medical marijuana dispensary “in a legal limbo,” running the risk of a police raid as the country prepares for the legalization of recreational pot this summer.

Be Kind is a “compassion club,” he says, helping those with chronic pain and providing cannabis in various forms to those who are prescribed it through a health practitioner.

Viewers can go inside the operation as it’s featured in the new docu-series “Bud Empire,” premiering Tuesday on History.

“I want to show the world that we are a culture that is responsible and that when people look at cannabis, that it’s not evil — it’s not the fearmongering reefer madness that we were grown up to believe it was,” the married father of four said in a phone interview.

“Cannabis is going to do some amazing things and I want people to see that, I want them to have access.”

Kay said he sources the cannabis he dispenses from those who have held the proper medical marijuana growing licences for no less than five years.

In the first episode, an elderly woman seeks relief for chronic pain in her foot. She isn’t looking for a strong high or anything obtrusive, so Kay gives her a topical cream and lollipop infused with cannabis.

The show also profiles Kay’s family and his employees.

“People need to see what’s really going on behind the curtain, like the Wizard of Oz,” Kay said.

“It’s not a boogeyman — it’s real people working in this industry who have lives, children, families.”

Trish Dolman, the show’s producer and director, called “Bud Empire” “groundbreaking.”

“I don’t think there is a TV series like this, a documentary series, certainly not in Canada,” she said.

Calling himself a “cannaisseur,” Kay said he looks for certain qualities in the cannabis he dispenses, including texture, density, consistency, colour, and how it burns and tastes.

“The ash has to be a grey ash, it can’t be black. It has to be smooth, it can’t burn your throat,” he said.

“Certain strains, like a Purple Kush, has a defining smell that you know the instant you smell it.”

While the marijuana business has moved toward a legalized framework in Canada, there are certain aspects that are currently illegal in some jurisdictions.

In episode 1 of “Bud Empire,” Kay frets about a proposed amendment to Kelowna’s zoning bylaw that would prohibit marijuana dispensaries from opening or operating in the city.

Federal law also states patients can only legally acquire medical cannabis in the mail from licensed producers.

“Why haven’t I been shut down? Mainly because they see that we’re doing the right thing,” Kay said.

“The RCMP can do anything they want and I have been told that on many occasions, so every day is a moment of fear in the sense that you just put it behind you.”

The legalization of recreational marijuana this summer will add a legitimacy to businesses like his, he added.

“Legalization takes away prohibition for us,” Kay said.

“People won’t be arrested and detained for possession of marijuana and their lives turned upside down, destroyed; they can’t travel, some can’t get professional jobs and they feel demonized or maybe embarrassed but they’re really good people, they have been good people.”

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