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Watermelon hopes to sweeten up Vancouver city council

Long-time cannabis activist Mary Jean Dunsdon, a.k.a. ‘Watermelon,’ running under Sensible B.C. banner

Mary Jean is hoping Mary Jane will be her meal ticket to a municipal mandate.

Better known locally as “Watermelon” or “the Weed Diva,” former Wreck Beach staple Mary Jean Dunsdon has announced her candidacy ahead of the Oct. 14 byelection.

She’s running under the Sensible B.C. banner, a group whose primary mandate is ending cannabis prohibition in Canada.

To that end, her platform is centred around sativa, indica, edibles and the like.

“I really want to help usher in this new era of legal cannabis in Canada,” Dunsdon said. “I think we are on the precipice of something so exciting and I want to be a part of it.”

Bylaws enacted in June 2015 aimed to clamp down on the proliferation of pot shops through a number of checks and balances: site-specific zoning regulations, business licence fees, criminal record checks and a 300-metre buffer zone between schools, community centres and neighbourhood houses.

Roughly 10 shops have been granted a business licence and more than 60 operate in violation of the city’s bylaw and licensing rules. Another 40 business are gone entirely — some changed their business model, others closed up shop.

The city has filed dozens of injunctions against dispensary owners and the first one will be before the courts at some point next year.

All that red tape is harshing Dunsdon’s mellow.

“Obviously, I’m going to be a cannabis-friendly candidate,” she said. “I would like to see a relaxing around some of the bylaws around dispensaries in this town.” 

Dunsdon enters the political arena with no previous experience, though public service does run in the family. Her late father Raymond Dunsdon was an alderman in Kamloops during the 1980s and was a career military man.

“That does not make me qualified, clearly,” Dunsdon said. “But I grew with a man who did national service and then when he retired, he went on to civic service. So maybe the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

Given her military family background, Dunsdon bounced around different Canadian locales every two to three years in her youth. Arriving in Vancouver in 1992, she spent 22 years frequenting Wreck Beach selling cannabis products and watermelon. She’s been photographed in High Times magazine and other publications during that period and started a popular YouTube channel chronicling her culinary flair. She now operates a pair of licorice/candy shops on Granville Island and Commercial Drive.

Dunsdon believes cannabis is a viable alternative in at least partly addressing the opioid crisis and housing shortage: funds generated from the sale of cannabis could put more money in more people’s pockets, she said. Dunsdon added that a relative is battling heroin addiction, though she’s loathe to place much, if any, blame on the current council for either issue.

“I don’t have huge criticisms about what they’ve done. I feel like municipally we can’t fix the housing and homeless crisis. We need help,” she said. “It is such a grandiose problem, that we need to solicit help. I don’t personally have the solution. But I don’t think criticizing those who have attempted before me will help at all.” 

Dunsdon is one of roughly a half-dozen people to announce their intentions ahead of the Oct. 14 byelection that will see one council spot selected in the wake of Vision councillor Geoff Meggs’ departure from city hall to become Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff.

The byelection will also include the election of nine school trustee positions left vacant after the previous school board was fired last fall by then-Education Minister Mike Bernier. 

Council hopefuls include NPA park board commissioner Sarah Kirby-Young, who recently announced she would be vying for her party’s nomination. Hector Bremner and Robert McDowell, a former NPA candidate and campaign manager for Coun. George Affleck, have also announced their intensions to run for the NPA nomination. Former NPA school trustee Penny Noble is also believed to be in the mix.

The Green Party has acclaimed Pete Fry as its council candidate, while long-time social-justice advocate Jean Swanson will run as an independent. Homeless advocate Judy Graves is vying for the OneCity party nomination. 

Vision Vancouver candidates will be selected through a selection process amongst its executive, rather than holding a nomination contest. 

— with files from Jessica Kerr