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
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.