Weed and le­gal limbo

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial -

If you were a bet­ting per­son, you’d have to think that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment (in the midst of plan­ning the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana) and the prov­inces (who are ex­pected to han­dle the sales of the plant) aren’t going to make next spring’s planned dead­line.

There’s a dis­tinct lack of clar­ity at this point about how a full-fledged mar­i­juana sales and dis­tri­bu­tion ap­pa­ra­tus is going to spring to life across the coun­try in just 10 short months.

But that’s not the only place where we’re short a lit­tle clar­ity: with things in le­gal limbo, you have to won­der when po­lice forces are going to sim­ply stop raid­ing black mar­ket mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries.

Yes, the dis­pen­saries are of­ten ei­ther break­ing the law, or skirt­ing very, very close to it.

Yes, the cur­rent law for­bid­ding the sale of mar­i­juana is still in place. Even if the drug is le­gal­ized, it’s be­gin­ning to look like sales will be han­dled through provin­cially man­aged out­lets, rather than through pri­vate dis­pen­saries. That’s cer­tainly the way that the On­tario gov­ern­ment has sig­naled it’s going to go, set­ting up its own stand-alone out­lets un­til the um­brella of the provin­cial liquor con­trol board.

(There are clear ad­van­tages to that: more profit to provin­cial cof­fers, a bet­ter guar­an­tee of prod­uct stan­dards, and an al­ready-in-place sys­tem to hope­fully ex­clude mi­nors from pur­chas­ing the prod­uct, just for a start.)

So, the dis­pen­saries are in a spot: their prod­uct is il­le­gal right now with­out a pre­scrip­tion, and will likely re­main, at best, a boot­leg prod­uct even af­ter le­gal­iza­tion. Where provin­cial gov­ern­ments leg­is­late con­trol of al­co­hol to their own Crown cor­po­ra­tions, you don’t see any pri­vate liquor busi­nesses op­er­at­ing on Main Street.

That be­ing said, in prov­ince af­ter prov­ince, po­lice forces have staged raids on dis­pen­saries when the sales get too ob­vi­ous, too pub­lic, and frankly, too em­bar­rass­ing for the po­lice forces in­volved. Dis­pen­saries that keep their heads down and their op­er­a­tions quiet don’t seem to gen­er­ate the po­lice in­ter­est — and trun­dle along, even though they are walked the same le­gal/il­le­gal line as their fel­lows.

It’s made for an in­ter­est­ing mess — and, at the same time, a waste of money. Po­lice forces spend time and re­sources raid­ing dis­pen­saries, ar­rest­ing staff, and pre­par­ing ev­i­dence for court. Pros­e­cu­tors spend their time pre­par­ing for court, and courts use up valu­able time as well, while at the same time, ev­ery­one is es­sen­tially going through the mo­tions, pros­e­cut­ing peo­ple for a crime that, within months, might not even be a crime.

It’s tough to see how this makes sense, ei­ther from the point of view of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or from those caught up in it. Is it fair to raid one pub­lic dis­pen­sary, but not all? Are there un­writ­ten rules nascent dis­pen­saries should fol­low?

Maybe there should be some in­terim guid­ance from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Or bet­ter yet, some clear com­mon sense.

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