Column: Lack of Clarity on Pot Legalization Leads to Dispensary Confusion

The saga of the Green Tree marijuana dispensary, the West Shore RCMP, and the City of Langford is a microcosm of the Wild West cannabis policy (or lack thereof) which has caused confusion all over Vancouver Island.

Consider what has happened in this tale so far:  Green Tree opened its doors in January in Langford, only to get shut down the next day by the RCMP.  Only a few weeks later it is back open for business, much to the consternation of the City of Langford, which refuses to issue a business licence.  A few days later, the West Shore RCMP move in to shut it down again, this time arresting two people and seizing marijuana on the premises.

How long will it stay closed?  Does it make sense for it to be closed?  Isn’t marijuana an illegal substance?  Didn’t the federal government promise to legalize marijuana a long time ago?  What is going on here? We have so many unanswered questions.

I have spoken to constituents who thought marijuana became legal the first day of the current government’s mandate, I have spoken to law enforcement officials who have at times been unsure as to whether to enforce marijuana infractions, I have spoken to local government officials who have varied opinions on whether business licences should be issued to dispensaries, and I have spoken to Health Canada-licenced medical marijuana producers who have made significant capital investments to comply with federal rules, and are threatened by those who do not.

Confusion reigns supreme due to the cannabis policy vacuum created by the federal government, in spite of the fact that marijuana is a scheduled drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  The federal government has committed to legalize marijuana – this much we know.  But how is it going to happen – and when?  All we have to go on are the recommendations issued in the December 2016 report by the federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.  Ironically, one of the report’s recommendations stresses the “importance of communicating early, consistently and often with the general public.”

In the absence of federal direction or leadership, local municipalities and police forces are trying to fill the void, often with conflicting approaches.  Look no further than the City of Victoria’s moves to regulate the 35 marijuana dispensaries that are operating within its borders.  Victoria Police are allowing these businesses to operate.  

Legalizing and regulating marijuana is a complicated task.  As a parent, I want assurances that access to marijuana for kids and youth is restricted.  I want to make sure that the health impacts, especially on mental health, are thoroughly investigated and mitigated.  I want to see strategies implemented to limit high-potency products and restrain problematic use, such as over-consumption and impaired driving.  

The previous law and order approach to marijuana did not work, and it contributed to a significant black market controlled by criminal enterprises.  I support the government’s plans to legalize and regulate marijuana.  Until the government’s plans materialize, something must be done in the interim to give clarification to businesses, police, municipalities, and residents.  As the NDP’s Justice Critic, and the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I will continue to push for answers on behalf of my community.

 

(Printed in the Goldstream Gazette, February 21, 2017)