Pubdate: Sat, 11 Mar 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Page: A10


Has Ottawa led marijuana-dispensary owners up the garden path? Are
municipalities that have begun licensing these outlets jumping the
gun? Judging by remarks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made in Victoria
last week, that might indeed be the case.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, the Liberal Party promised
to legalize marijuana. The party also said it would regulate and
restrict access to the drug, but not surprisingly, the message most
Canadians heard was that legalization is on the way.

However, during his visit here last week, the prime minister appeared
to walk back, or at least qualify, that promise: "I cannot stress
enough that until we have a framework to control and regulate
marijuana, the current law applies."

That is saying the drug remains illegal if sold without a physician's
prescription. And it can only be construed as a warning against
premature licensing of dispensaries.

The arrest this week of marijuana retailers Marc and Jodie Emery is a
reminder that limits are still in place.

Are Trudeau and his advisers having second thoughts? Medical
authorities are troubled about the potential health hazards of smoking
any burned plant material. They point out that several constituents of
marijuana smoke are carcinogens, and that inhalation is one of the
least effective ways of absorbing the active ingredient.

Most physicians are strongly opposed to acting as gatekeepers if
marijuana is legalized, since there is insufficient research into its
effectiveness or its side-effects.

Inevitably, some of these concerns will have been included in
briefings for the prime minister. What might have appeared
straightforward at the outset might no longer look as simple.

Some of the region's local governments appear to understand that
uncertainties still exist. Langford Mayor Stew Young has said that he
opposes dispensaries until the legal issues are cleared up. Both
Sidney and Esquimalt have issued bans.

But by some accounts, there are already 35 outlets in Victoria and
several in Sooke. If this goes on, the capital region could become the
pot centre of Canada.

There is a risk of jumping the gun. Victoria city council has said it
will permit the sale of marijuana if dispensary owners obtain a $5,000
business licence, acquire the necessary zoning permit and prohibit
on-site consumption. Sale to minors is also forbidden.

But even with these restrictions, it's not clear that dispensaries
will be given a green light when Parliament finally acts. It is
conceivable that only pharmacies will be allowed to sell the drug.

Moreover, there are also uncertainties about the kinds of products
that would be authorized. While outlets in Victoria sell marijuana
oil, capsules and edibles such as brownies, dried marijuana for
smoking is often their most popular item.

What happens if smoking marijuana is prohibited in the new federal
regulations? Some of the dispensaries that already have local
government approval might be ruined if their largest source of income
is outlawed. Yet given the concerns raised within the medical
community, this is a distinct possibility.

In short, by licensing dispensaries before the new legislation is
finalized, municipalities such as Victoria are groping in the dark.
The quasi-legal framework they've constructed could collide head-on
with whatever Ottawa decides.

Most of the blame for this rests with the prime minister and his
colleagues. They've undermined the moral authority of the existing
law, without producing an alternative. That leaves everyone, from the
police to local governments to the business community, in a state of

Perhaps Trudeau hoped to clarify the situation by reminding us that
the old law still stands. He would have done better to tell us what
the new law will look like, if not in detail, then at least in
outline. We are entitled to know.
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