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Pending legalization of pot leaves dispensaries in the dust

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Photo: Duncan C/Flickr

In Canada, July 1 of this year could be the implementation date of Bill C-45, which would make marijuana legal in Canada for the first time in 94 years. 

Currently, only access to cannabis for medical reasons are legal under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), with licenses issued by Health Canada. Regulated medical cannabis became legal back in 2001.

Spurred on by public opinion, and as part of his platform, Justin Trudeau committed to legalizing small amounts of cannabis strictly for personal use if he was elected prime minister in the 2015 federal elections. His Liberals went on to form a majority government, which made the passing the laws legalizing easier as the Conservative Party -- which came out against legalization -- did not have enough votes to oppose him.

Bill C-45 was passed by the federal House of Commons in late November 2017, but the final vote in the House will not occur until June. If approved by the Senate in time, personal consumption of cannabis should be legal July 1, 2018. Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief, is the key point person on the marijuana file.  

But that is a big If. Just because July 1st has been floated around as the set date for the legalization of marijuana, if the Senate has its way, the set date might be pushed back until August. The delayed timeline is a political victory for Conservatives, who have demanded more time to study the implications of legalizing cannabis.

The federal government estimates indicate that the illegal sale of marijuana is worth over seven billion dollars per year, so we know that the government's decision to legalize marijuana sales wasn’t purely based on a desire to make cannabis users' lives easier.

Ottawa will still be responsible for licensing the producers, but the provinces have been charged with the power to determine the exact method of distribution and sale, as well as establishing the legal age limit for cannabis sale and use. Ottawa has originally stated that the legal age will be 18, but the provinces have the right to raise that age limit as they see fit. The provinces also have the right to set the price. 

As for Canadians who want to grow their own marijuana, they will be limited to four plants per household.

The party's plan was to remove cannabis possession for personal consumption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This said, however, new laws will be enacted for greater punishment of those convicted of supplying cannabis to minors and impairment while driving a motor vehicle.

Driving under the influence of cannabis is still a contested issue, regarding both getting the message out to Canadians that driving while impaired is illegal whether the substance be alcohol or cannabis, and how exactly laws will be enforced on the roads, including how police officers will be best able to test someone's level of intoxication.

This has not kept cannabis dispensaries from trying to sell cannabis to consumers for public use. There have been regular and high-profile raids of dispensaries such as Cannabis Culture, run by Marc and Jodi Emory. Their Toronto dispensaries were searched and the employees arrested as part of Project Gator, a Toronto Police Service project targeting marijuana dispensaries.

In total, Emery, the so-called Prince of Pot, and his wife Jodie run about a dozen marijuana shops in Canada under the brand Cannabis Culture. 

Toronto police charged both Emerys with drug trafficking, conspiracy and possession on March 9, 2017, at Pearson Airport as the couple prepared to leave for a cannabis festival in Spain. Charges against them included conspiracy to commit an indictable offense, trafficking and possession. The Emerys plead guilty to the charges in December of 2017.

Police forces across Canada will continue to raid dispensaries that flout current cannabis laws, which state that the sale of cannabis can only be done through licensed distributors and the product couriered through the mail, not bought off the street from dispensary storefronts which have been popping up in cities big and small. 

Since federal legislation gives provinces and territories the power to determine the method of sale, each will be different. For example, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has proposed using the already established LCBO for the logistical support needed for controlling and selling of cannabis products, including marijuana and cannabis oils.

This would not take place in the same stores that already sell alcoholic beverages. Despite being the sole vendor, a subsidiary called the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC) will open an initial 40 stores for the July launch and another 40 stores by July of 2019. Online sales would also be permitted through the OCRC.

Patients with a prescription for medical cannabis currently purchase their product strictly online, and this won’t likely change.

But the one thing these distributors are unhappy with is the fact that they won’t be able to sell their products to recreational users, despite the fact that there is already a structure in place. 

This is the first part of a two-part series on cannabis in Canada. Read part two here.

Photo: Duncan C/Flickr

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