Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dunsdon will run as Vancouver’s cannabis-friendly city council candidate

She may not have known it then, but the self-proclaimed weed diva, whose local fame stems from selling cannabis-infused cookies and watermelon on Wreck Beach for 22 years, might be getting her political career started a little sooner than she expected.

Mary Jean "Watermelon" Dunsdon / votewatermelon.ca

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Exactly two years ago, the Straight informed our readers that Watermelon would run for mayor in 2023.

She may not have known it then, but the self-proclaimed weed diva, whose local fame stems from selling cannabis-infused cookies and watermelon on Wreck Beach for 22 years, might be getting her political career started a little sooner than she expected.

She’ll run in the City of Vancouver’s October 14 by-election for the councillor position that was vacated by Geoff Meggs, as a candidate for the newly created municipal arm of Sensible BC, a provincial party founded by marijuana advocates including Dana Larsen in 2012.

‘We’re creating a Sensible Vancouver party, and trying to get the cannabis community and other communities that feel poorly done by the other parties, to come on board,’ Larsen told the Straight earlier this week in a telephone interview.

‘Nobody’s really standing up for dispensaries or seeing cannabis as a positive thing in Vancouver, and the current city council wants to shut down 90 percent or more of the existing dispensaries,’ he said.

Larsen acknowledged that the status of city council as a Vision Vancouver-led body wouldn’t change, but said he also expected there to be a very low voter turnout.

‘This will be more about rallying people and getting them excited than convincing other people, but I’d also like to reach out to other groups,’ he said, mentioning e-cigarette users, and consumers that like to occupy vapour lounges and hookah lounges.

‘They’ve been under attack and threat from the city for a long time. It was a unanimous vote at city council to treat all vapourizing exactly the same as smoking tobacco, and we support some rules around that and don’t think it should be a total free-for-all, but we also think its too restrictive to treat it the same as tobacco. We’d rather create more opportunity for people that would like to go to vpaour lounges or hookah lounges.’

In a separate phone call, Dunsdon explained to the Straight just how crucial the role of dispensaries is in Vancouver. She said she’d work to see a relaxing of the bylaws that limit the way these shops are allowed to operate.

‘We need someone a little more friendly on council, because right now there is no voice for all the patients and consumers that use dispensaries,’ she said.

Instead of putting pressure on businesses to meet certain requirements, like being a certain distance away from a school, she said more attention should be paid to the safety of the product.

‘I’d like to focus more on testing things rather than wondering who’s selling it. Cannabis can be for everybody, and it has helped benefit lots and lots of people in Vancouver. Why would anyone kill an industry that employs so many people, especially in the middle of a housing crisis?’ she said.

‘We need to test all the cannabis, and use all our energy to make sure the products aren’t laden with pesticides, and then take the energy out of finding out who’s growing it. The enemy is not the seller.”

In Dunsdon’s eyes, Vancouver has an opportunity on the world stage to create a better municipal model that could resonate in other cities and provinces.

She also emphasized the inconsistencies between the way cannabis shops and storefronts that sell alcohol are regulated in the city.

‘I run a licorice shop in the Kids Market at Granville Island, and there’s a brewery so close by I could throw an ice cream cone at it, with a line up of parents and kids waiting to go inside,’ she said.

When it comes to other issues affecting the city like the opioid crisis, Dunsdon said Sensible Vancouver would advocate for more harm reduction tools, more safe injection sites, and a new mobile drug-testing facility.

‘We’d set up free, anonymous drug testing in the Downtown Eastside, sort of like a food truck but for drug testing,’ she said.

Dunsdon and Larsen also plan to appeal to sex workers by offering to create safer environments for them in the Downtown Eastside.

As for the issue of affordable housing, Dunsdon said she was eager to see more initiative from the City, but that she alone didn’t have the solution.

‘We don’t quite have a solution to that, but we’re passionate about environmental sustainability,’ she said, adding that an alternate name for the party in planning stages had been Leap, a reference to the Leap Manifesto.

She says two things have provided her with a source of inspiration in the lead-up to her campaign announcement: Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough, and the Leap Manifesto.

Dunsdon and other members of Sensible Vancouver have met with dispensary owners and leaders in the local cannabis industry to seek both financial and voter support, but also to spread the message to their respective client bases. So far, all feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

In advance of voting day, she plans to set up carpooling from dispensaries to the polls, so that the elderly and those with mobility issues have adequate transportation.

All in all, Dunsdon hopes to rally as much support and inspiration as possible from Vancouver’s community of cannabis users. At the very least, she knows she’s got the nude vote.

‘I’m honoured, and I’m going to put my best face forward. I want to do my community proud. I love this city, and I love cannabis.’

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