Canada's medical marijuana (MMJ) dispensaries may soon become an endangered species.
They're already in danger of being legislated out of business. But it now seems that Canada's police agencies have declared open season on them.
Law enforcement raids on dispensaries have been all over the news lately.
Police arrest three people during raid of Cannabis Culture dispensary in Toronto (Photo: Getty)
The fact that Canada's "pot czar" is ex-cop Bill Blair already has dispensaries and cottage-industry cannabis cultivators shuddering. After all, he built his law enforcement career on throwing these kinds of people behind bars.
To many of them, Blair is still the guy they call "Bill the Narc," someone who had their homes raided by SWAT teams. That's because he was a long-time undercover narcotics cop before he become Ttheioronto's police chief. He retired in 2015.
Canada's medical marijuana dispensaries may soon become an endangered species.
These days, Blair is a Toronto Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and it's Blair's job to help craft the regulatory framework for recreational cannabis.
He says he's all about doing what's right for Canadians. After all, why wouldn't he? The Liberals promised legalization at the ballot box and swept into power in 2015 with the help of millions of pro-pot voters.
However, politicians are cynical creatures and Blair isn't as progressive-minded as he claims.
Liberal MP Bill Blair says the government won't rush legalization of marijuana. (Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Consider this: he's the same guy who shot down Bill C-246 last year -- which aimed to strengthen Canada's notoriously weak, antiquated animal cruelty laws.
In fact, he rejected the notion that Canadians unanimously agree that the rape, torture or vicious killing of stray cats and dogs should be criminal offences. There needs to be more consultation with the general public to see if we all really feel that way, he claimed.
Under current laws, only household pets are worthy of legal protection simply because they're considered to be personal possessions, much like an automobile or a sofa. And apparently that's just fine with Blair.
The Government has a Double Standard
What's really interesting is that most dispensaries diligently pay taxes to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) -- funds that are shared with the various provinces where they operate.
Among them is Canada's first-ever dispensary -- the Vancouver-based B.C. Compassion Club Society, which has been operating for 20 years.
It has never been harassed or shut down by the police. This is largely due to the fact that it operates discreetly while catering to genuinely ill medical marijuana patients (unlike some dispensaries). Also, it's a non-profit venture, unlike the vast majority of dispensaries.
Conversely, the world's most famous cannabis activist, Marc Emery, has been running a several highly visible, profit-oriented dispensaries for the last year or so.
Marc Emery was previously arrested at one of his new Montreal dispensaries in December and charged with drug trafficking. (Photo: Toronto Star via Getty Images)
All told, hundreds of dispensaries have popped up all over the land over the past few years and they have collectively paid CRA tens of millions of dollars.
Emery says he, alone, has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes, including payroll contributions, in just the last few months.
Now he's accusing the government of hypocrisy for accepting tax money from pot sales while at the same time cracking down on dispensaries.
Marc Emery's accusing the government of hypocrisy for accepting tax money from pot sales while at the same time cracking down on dispensaries.
This makes the federal government a willing participant in the big-dollar MMJ dispensary business, he argues.
I have to agree.
Meanwhile, one of the Toronto police's arguments for putting Emery out of business is that his products may not be safe for public consumption. This is because dispensaries aren't legally required to test them for contaminants.
If this is the case, police forces from shore to shore can use the same argument to shut down nearly all of Canada's dispensaries for not testing at all, or for not testing to the exacting standards of Health Canada.
Kicking the "Can"-nabis Down the Road
A day before Emery's highly-publicized take down, there was another setback for the cannabis community: the federal government dashed any hopes that Canada would legalize recreational pot as early as spring, 2018.
Commonly known as "licensed producers" (LPs), they've been aggressively expanding to scale-up in time to cater to a projected eight million recreational consumers.
Most LPs were gambling that spring/summer of next year would usher-in this new multi-billion dollar industry. But they guessed wrong.
Now they may end up with lots of surplus growing capacity that could not just hurt their share prices, but also their financials.
Along with the LPs, the rest of Canada will likely have to wait until spring of 2019 (or later) for legal recreational cannabis to finally become a reality.
The protest has largely been held outside the Vancouver Art Gallery for over 20 years, but was moved to Sunset Beach last year. (Photo: John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail>
This buys the federal government enough time to devise what Emery refers to as "very tight, restrictive controls" for the cultivation and sale of recreational cannabis.
In effect, this will pander to LPs and other big corporate players by presumably putting all the small growers and dispensaries out of business, he told me.
"The government is trying to steal the cannabis culture from the people who make up that culture and who have long been crusaders for legalization.
"The new legal system will be a cynical, deeply-controlled, top-down type of thing that favours the business establishment."
Dispensaries also deserve to be accommodated when legalization finally arrives -- but with conditions.
Here's my take: dispensary owners like Emery have tirelessly fought for many years for more liberalized cannabis laws. They've even racked up hefty legal bills while pleading their case to the highest court in the land.
Ultimately, they've helped pave the way for the mainstreaming of medical marijuana, which has mainly benefitted "Big Business", a.k.a. LPs.
So dispensaries also deserve to be accommodated when legalization finally arrives -- but with conditions.
Just like LPs, dispensaries should be regulated and monitored to ensure that their products are always safe for public consumption. This would provide a more level playing field with competing LPs.
If instead these pot pioneers are crushed underfoot, it will leave an ugly stain on Canadian democracy.
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