Pubdate: Sat, 03 Dec 2016
Source: Telegram, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2016 The Telegram
Author: James McLeod
Page: A1


Marijuana dispensaries: how is this legal? It's complicated

As news broke this week that CannaLeaf Medical Dispensary on Water
Street was selling marijuana to anybody older than 19, and dozens of
other dispensaries have opened in cities across the country, one
question hangs over it all: how is this legal?

The answer, depending on who you ask, is somewhere between, "It's
definitely illegal," "It's a legal grey area," and, "It's really,
really complicated."

The first thing to understand is that according to the law, as it's
written now, selling marijuana out of a storefront to anybody is still
definitely illegal.

But some people are betting that if they made the right arguments in
front of a judge, that law would be shut down.

It's 100 per cent against the law to buy pot for recreational
purposes, and if you're a medical user with authorization from a
doctor, the way you're supposed to get your marijuana is through the
mail from one of 36 licensed providers with official approval from
Health Canada.

For sanctioned medicinal purposes, users can also grow their own
marijuana, or they can nominate somebody else to grow it on their
behalf. But those growers can grow only for themselves or a small
number of medical patients, and not do large-scale commercial production.

But over the years, there have been a series of court fights from
medical marijuana users arguing, essentially, that the system is too
dysfunctional and restrictive, and courts have struck down parts of
the medical marijuana regulations.

Many medical dispensaries, including at least one in St. John's,
operate on the view that the rules are still too restrictive, and if
they were ever charged with breaking them, the law would be tossed out
by the courts.

Health Cannabis, on Water Street, is an authorized producer of
marijuana for a small number of patients, and provides access to other
people with a valid prescription from Friday to Sunday.

"The reason we operate this way is because cannabis is supposed to be
delivered through the mail as per the (Marijuana for Medical Purposes
Regulations), but reasonable access does not mean waiting the weekend
for your medicine," operator David Ferkul said in an email.

But this doesn't explain the situation with CannaLeaf, which was open
for about two weeks from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, serving
pot products to anybody with a valid photo ID proving they were 19 or

These places seem to be using the cover of the medical marijuana
confusion to make a quick buck.

"Somebody might make a charter argument that these dispensaries are
filling a legitimate need for people with medical needs for
marijuana," said Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer and criminology professor
at the University of Ottawa. "I don't know how far that argument will

All of this confusion has been aided by the fact that police have let
it happen. In big cities, too many storefront dispensaries have popped
up for the police to tackle them all quickly, and many police forces
have decided that busting these operations is a poor use of their time.

"They may be simply saying, look, we have certain policing priorities
and this may not be at the top of the list, until something
significant happens or unless there are community complaints,"
Oscapella said.

In the case of CannaLeaf, four people were arrested and the police
said charges are pending under the Controlled Drugs and Substances
Act. That's a pretty serious deterrent, but if another dozen
dispensaries opened up in town next week and they weren't causing any
problems, it's an open question whether the police would decide it's
worth their time and energy to lay the groundwork, get search warrants
and raid them all.

Ferkul said he'd been told there are as many as three other places
opening up around town, not including Health Cannabis.

Hanging over the whole conversation is the fact that Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize and regulate marijuana for
recreational purposes. So one theory on why the storefront
dispensaries are popping up is so they can gobble up a share of the
market in anticipation of the coming legalization.

But on that point, Oscapella said it's no guarantee the storefront
dispensaries will be where Canadians eventually buy legal weed.

Some provinces have advocated selling marijuana through liquor stores,
and some people have suggested pharmacies might be the best way to

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said this week that for the
Newfoundland and Labrador government, preliminary preparation is
underway, but no decisions have been made.
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