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EDITORIAL (JUNE 2016): Mayo no, marijuana maybe

June 14th, 2016 · No Comments

The Toronto Police Service’s recent crackdown on 45 pot dispensaries, many of which are just steps from the Annex, signals the City of Toronto’s frustration with the federal government’s lack of progress on the decriminalization of marijuana, as well as the need for a framework regulating the production, distribution, and sale of the green bud. Although a Liberal campaign promise to amend the decriminalization of pot is expected to be realized in 2017, entrepreneurs have already begun to establish a thriving retail market.

The only thing that the federal government’s point person on the file, former Toronto police chief now member of Parliament Bill Blair, has to offer is that the rapid spread of dispensaries is reckless, illegal, and “only designed to make a quick buck”. While all this may be true, it does nothing to help Toronto, or any other Canadian municipality, navigate the legal vacuum.

The city has more restrictions on the provision of mayonnaise by a licensed hot-dog food-cart vendor than on the sale of an ounce of marijuana.

Indeed, the city has more restrictions on the provision of mayonnaise by a licensed hot-dog food-cart vendor than on the sale of an ounce of marijuana.

Blair is committed to establishing strict regulations for governing the industry, which to date has been limited to selling to patients with a prescription from a doctor. Under the law such patients are required to place an order with a licensed producer who will then dispense the supply by mail or courier.

Those who have opened retail shops defend themselves by arguing they are simply providing a more convenient way for patients to procure marijuana. But the retailers are skating on thin ice, as they are essentially making the case that they are now pharmacists. In that capacity, the pot shops are poor professionals. The drugs they dispense are from unknown sources, contain elements that are not quantified, and have potencies that represent something of a moving target. Furthermore, profits from the retail sales line the pockets of organized crime further up the food chain.

Vancouver is ahead of Toronto on this issue. It has developed bylaws that help it navigate the legal vacuum where police are reluctant to charge for simple possession, while the federal government dithers on the question. Vancouver regulates where the stores can be located, ensuring, for example, that shops are not close to schools or even each other.

In Toronto, on the other hand, bylaw officers threatened commercial landlords with infractions should tenants be allowed to sell marijuana from their premises, only to have the police cart away stock and charge shop owners with possession for the purpose of trafficking. The shop owners were hardly hiding their intent, instead selling their product openly and unabashedly. All the crown attorney need do for evidence is submit images of neon signs from the storefronts. The city took this blunt instrument approach, because it lacks the tools to apply a more nuanced one.

The Liberal commitment is born of the widespread recognition that the prohibition model is not working. The highly restrictive approach was further frustrated by various court rulings ordering the federal government to make marijuana available for medical use. This medicinal use angle has been the wedge that has opened up the market so freely.

While strict prohibition is not working that does not mean that legalization without regulation works any better. The strategy that the federal government intends is not likely to result in mom-and-pop stores selling the stuff. The new laws are expected to prevent such sales from these dispensaries. The government has just appointed Anne McLellan, a former Minister of Public Safety, Health, and Justice under the governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, to lead a federal-provincial task force to develop a strict regime for the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana, and provincial officials have publically mused that it might make sense for sales to run through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

McLellan is said to be a very, very rules-oriented person. That may be what’s needed to bring order to this chaos.


Tags: Annex · Editorial