The case for opt­ing in

The Observer (Sarnia) - - NEWS -

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.

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