Ex­perts say opt-out clause in the province’s pri­va­ti­za­tion plans for le­gal weed will al­low un­der­ground mar­ket to flour­ish and leave med­pot pa­tients high and dry

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - By IAN CAREY | @nowtoronto

With the province’s plan for le­gal­iza­tion al­low­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to opt out of hav­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana sold within their city lim­its, reefer mad­ness is alive and well in 2018.

Oakville, Rich­mond Hill and Markham have an­nounced they will be the cannabis equiv­a­lent of dry states come le­gal­iza­tion.

You can pur­chase to­bacco, al­co­hol, guns and opi­oids within Oakville, Markham and Rich­mond Hill’s bor­ders, but nei­ther will al­low the morally cor­rupt cannabis plant to be sold within their good city.

In fact, it seems that cannabis users, recre­ational or oth­er­wise, are the kind of peo­ple not wel­come in these towns.

“The con­cern with the com­mu­nity is that it will be seen as an ac­cept­able thing to do, and most par­ents don’t want their chil­dren think­ing that is the case,” Rich­mond Hill Mayor Dave Bar­row told CTV News last month. “Our com­mu­nity is say­ing we just don’t want to have it avail­able.”

The re­sult will be a strength­ened black mar­ket for cannabis sales in those com­mu­ni­ties.

“What they are re­ally opt­ing for is an un­der­ground cannabis in­dus­try rather than one that is reg­u­lated,” says lawyer Paul Lewin.

The pur­pose of le­gal­iz­ing cannabis is to take an un­reg­u­lated in­dus­try and reg­u­late it.

But Premier Doug Ford has opted to re­place the Lib­er­als’ plan to sell weed through gov­ern­ment-con­trolled cannabis stores with a fully pri­vate model, which will be up and run­ning by next spring in­stead of when le­gal­iza­tion is set to kick in on Oc­to­ber 17.

Un­til then, cannabis will be sold ex­clu­sively on­line in On­tario, while the fate of dis­pen­saries al­ready op­er­at­ing in a le­gal grey area re­mains up in the air.

While civic lead­ers in Oakville, Markham and Rich­mond Hill might be try­ing to send a mes­sage to their youth that they don’t ap­prove of cannabis, lawyer Trina Fraser says forc­ing weed out of en­tire cities will only make weed far more ac­ces­si­ble to mi­nors through the un­der­ground mar­ket.

“Drug deal­ers aren’t check­ing IDs,” says Fraser.

The Cannabis Coun­cil of Canada says it’s con­fi­dent most com­mu­ni­ties that choose to opt out will even­tu­ally de­cide to opt in. (Any mu­nic­i­pal­ity that chooses to opt out can opt back in, but if you opt in, there is no opt­ing out later.)

“We think most com­mu­ni­ties will see the ben­e­fit of re­plac­ing an ex­ist­ing il­le­gal mar­ket­place with a le­gal one,” says ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Al­lan Re­wak.

In the mean­time, how­ever, the de­ci­sion of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to opt out of recre­ational mar­i­juana sales “will cause very se­ri­ous gaps in rea­son­able ac­cess for med­i­cal pa­tients as well,” says lawyer Jack Lloyd.

Pa­tients pre­scribed med­i­cal mar­i­juana are cur­rently re­quired to go through a mail-or­der sys­tem. Re­ly­ing on the mail for med­i­ca­tion is in­her­ently prob­lem­atic. Any num­ber of cir­cum­stances, even weather, can cause a pa­tient to be with­out weed.

If it were any other pre­scrip­tion, a pa­tient could just walk to their lo­cal phar­macy. That is not the case for med­i­cal cannabis, but dis­pen­saries are of­ten able to fill that void. The de­ci­sions of Oakville, Markham and Rich­mond Hill will cre­ate prob­lems for pa­tients in those com­mu­ni­ties.

“They are say­ing that those in­di­vid­u­als who live in that area can’t go to a store and ac­cess medicine,” says Lloyd. “It’s ridicu­lous.”

The de­ci­sion of some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to not al­low le­gal weed within their bor­ders will cre­ate huge gaps in the cannabis de­liv­ery sys­tem.

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