The case for opting in
One cornerstone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election vow to legalize recreational pot was to cut the flow of money to criminals from illegal sales of the drug.
Critics cautioned that only a retail system making marijuana easily available to Canadians, at a competitive price, would muscle out drug dealers and black market operators.
Opting out of allowing marijuana dispensaries doesn’t make that possible, says Trina Fraser, a leading cannabis lawyer based in Ottawa.
“So long as you’re not providing a convenient, comparable, legal alternative, the illegal market will continue to flourish,” said Fraser, who advises the marijuana industry.
Snuffing out the black market was a driving force behind London council’s decision to approve allowing marijuana dispensaries in the city when the bricks-and-mortar businesses are allowed to open in April.
“Taking it out of the hands of organized crime and putting it in retail stores is . . . a huge step forward,” Coun. Maureen
Cassidy said of the decision to embrace dispensaries.
Cities and towns opposed to allowing pot stores also lose out on their slice of $40 million being doled out by the province over the next two years, in part to deal with law enforcement and public education issues.
London already has received $450,000 to deal with the introduction of recreational cannabis, its city manager reported last month.
“Some (municipalities) have assessed the amount of money from the province as being a fairly nominal sum and not really a reason to opt in,” Fraser said.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley compares today’s situation with pot, with municipalities forced to decide whether or not to allow legal stores, to the era when Ontario was at odds over alcohol sales.
“It’s going to create this checkerboard Ontario of communities — it’s the old dry and wet thing we had with liquor,”
Bradley said, referring to places that did not allow liquor sales and those that did.
“If it’s legal, and it’s available through the internet (through the government’s online sales monopoly), then it should be available for people to properly access it in every community,” he said of cannabis, adding a government-regulated industry ultimately will be much safer than the illicit market.
Critics contend municipalities that have opted out of hosting dispensaries made the decision based on fear, not facts.
“I hope that we can get to the point where there are no opt-out municipalities, but I think that’s going to take some time,” Fraser said.