Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jun 2016
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2016 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Jordan Parker


N.S. Marijuana Seller Says Weed Shall Overcome

Halifax's best known marijuana business operator Mal McMeekin says it
won't be long before the need for medical marijuana overcomes the
stigma and legal biases against it.

McMeekin isn't rattled by last week's Toronto raids of 43 marijuana

"I knew the risks and I knew what could happen," said McMeekin
following the raids.

He acknowledges his business operates in a legal grey area and spoke
to the Chronicle Herald last month about the confusing and conflicting
politics of medical marijuana sales.

"I feel dispensaries in places like British Columbia are ahead of
their time, but the rest of Canada clearly isn't," he said.

"We've just been moving forward like any other business. We can't
focus on all these different rules."

A ruling in British Columbia following raids on dispensaries
characterized the federal government's clampdown as an unfair
restriction of medical marijuana.

But the raids in Toronto showed that not all provinces - or the nation
as a whole - are on the same page.

McMeekin, owner of Tasty Budds, has difficulty understanding just what
the Halifax Regional Municipality and RCMP think of his

"We are well within our rights to have my business," he

The provincial RCMP haven't said why storefronts like McMeekin's
continue to operate in spite of the laws against them.

"Businesses operating in contravention of the Controlled Drugs and
Substance Act. . .may be subject to investigation and criminal charges
in accordance with Canadian laws," said an email from spokeswoman
Jennifer Clarke.

"The RCMP enforces the laws of Canada. Marijuana is regulated as a
controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
which prohibits the importation, exportation, trafficking, production,
and possession of it or its derivatives."

They said if they see a contravention of the existing legislation,
they will take action.

However, they would not confirm or deny whether anything like
Toronto's Project Claudia raids will happen here.

Despite being denied an occupancy permit for his Dartmouth location,
McMeekin has now expanded to three within metro. He is appealing the

HRM spokeswoman Tiffany Chase says permits are required to legally
operate a business within the city.

"Should a medical marijuana dispensary apply for a business occupancy
permit, the application would be denied as the product planned for
sale is illegal under federal regulations. We do not issue licenses
for illegal business operations," she said.

"Tasty Budds Compassionate Care Club were denied an occupancy permit
at a location on Tacoma Drive in Dartmouth, and it is that permit
denial that has been appealed to the NSUARB."

Chase would not answer why Tasty Budds has been allowed to remain open
even though it's being run illegally, and said the city was waiting on
the outcome of the appeals process.

"We have not issued permits for any medical marijuana dispensaries at
any location in the city."

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage could not be reached to discuss the issue of
dispensaries and medical marijuana being run in the city, but his
office responded on his behalf.

"Decriminalization falls within the purview of the federal government
and as a municipality we would, naturally, abide by the laws of the
land. While there has been a stated intention to decriminalize
marijuana municipal by-laws and the Halifax Regional Municipality
Charter do not allow us to authorize a use that is inconsistent with
federal law," the mayor's office said in an email.

"Health Canada does not authorize the operation of retail storefronts.
As the legislation around marijuana use and sale changes in Canada, so
too will municipal regulations."

McMeekin says the absolute need for his product will eventually trump
regulatory resistance.

"People are coming from Cape Breton and New Brunswick to get this

There is nowhere else for some people to go," he said.

"This should all be regulated like British Columbia. We should follow
guidelines and these dispensaries should be allowed."

Premier Stephen McNeil put his support behind decriminalization in
September 2013, during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session just before he
was elected.

"I have supported - and I do support - the decriminalization of small
amounts of marijuana. For me, it doesn't make any sense to give
someone a criminal record for this," he wrote.

"Full legalization has more ramifications but it would have to be
undertaken by the federal government as it is a federal responsibility
under the constitution. That said, it's-a-coming."

There were 86 arrests and over 100 charges laid in connection with the
Toronto raids, which may leave storefront owners with criminal records.

While McNeil saw the federal government's full legalization and
regulation of medical marijuana as a foregone conclusion in 2013, his
office's statement on the subject last week gave no hint of the
premier's previous endorsement.

"Legalizing marijuana is a decision of the national government. My job
is to make sure we have in place safeguards and proper regulations in
conjunction with the federal law," said an emailed statement
attributed to McNeil.

"For example, we need to fully understand how we deal with people who
are potentially impaired but operating a motor vehicle; we need to be
able to prevent access by minors."

Health Canada says that the only legal way to get medical marijuana is
from licensed producers. Dispensaries are not authorized under current

However, British Columbia's dispensaries won their appeal while the
raids in Toronto made clear not everyone was willing to sit back and
let dispensaries run.

"These establishments operate outside of the legal framework and
provide products from illegal sources that are untested, unregulated
and unsafe. There are no controls in place to ensure quality and stop
diversion to and from the illegal channels, such as organized crime,"
the federal department said in an email.

"Canadians who need marijuana for medical purposes are able to access
it through the legal, regulated system that Health Canada has set up."

The government has plans to introduce legislation relating to
marijuana in spring 2017.

"The Government of Canada is committed to legalizing, strictly
regulating, and restricting access to marijuana to keep it out of the
hands of children and to stop criminals from profiting from the
illicit trade," they wrote.

"The government will launch a Task Force to seek input from the
provinces and territories, experts in public health, substance abuse,
law enforcement, economics and justice, as well as from Canadians, on
the design of a new legislative and regulatory system."

McMeekin says decriminalization is one step, but that everyone's first
focus should be the patients.

"All these different levels are talking about different pages and
enforcement. Everyone must come together and find a solution," he said.

"The HRM and province are just sitting back and waiting to see what
happens. If the feds go through with this, it's about time we see a
different stance."  
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