Pubdate: Mon, 10 Apr 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers
Page: A1


Raided little more than a month ago by police, three of five illegal
pot shops are back in action.

Call it back to the future, pot-style: It was the largest-ever London
police operation targeting illegal marijuana shops.

Dozens of officers fanned out across the city in a coordinated
crackdown, swooping down on five marijuana dispensaries.

Police charged eight people with a combined 24 counts of drug
trafficking and seized $170,000 worth of cannabis products. Yet little
more than a month after the March 2 raids, three of the five
dispensaries are now back in business.

The defiant re-openings - a strategy used by raided dispensaries
across Canada - have critics asking one question. Why?

Many wonder why police are devoting valuable resources to shutting
down the businesses when the federal Liberal government says it will
introduce legislation this week to legalize and regulate marijuana for
recreational use.

"It's a slap in the face to taxpayers who voted for legalization with
the understanding that it was meant to stop the wasteful spending of
law enforcement dollars on pot and to attack the more serious crimes,"
said pot crusader Jodie Emery, who's now under strict bail conditions
following her arrest last month.

Emery and husband, Marc, the former Londoner and Canada's best-known
marijuana activist, were charged with a string of drug-related
offences after police raided the couple's Cannabis Culture franchises
across the country. Jodie Emery, 32, said the recent raids, including
the ones in London, are part of a campaign to scare off marijuana
entrepreneurs so the government-approved licensed pot producers will
have a monopoly on distribution once cannabis is finally legalized.

But that's not what the people want, said Emery, whose bail conditions
require her to live in Ontario and stay away from pot shops.

"The reason dispensaries became so popular is because of people power,
the free market," she told The Free Press over the weekend.

"(Canadians) want to support these dispensaries because they like that
model and it's what legalization should look like," Emery said.

The Trudeau government's long-awaited marijuana legislation is
expected to take effect July 1, 2018, according to news reports that
say Ottawa will still continue to license producers and oversee
safety, but leave to the provinces how the drug will be sold,
distributed and priced.

In London, the three reopened dispensaries say they only serve clients
with a valid medicinal marijuana licence.

Before last month's raids, some of the city's pot shops didn't require
customers to have a prescription.

But federal law prohibits medicinal users from buying cannabis from
anyone except the 41 government-approved licenced producers. Users
also can apply to grow their own marijuana plants or designate someone
to do it for them.

Nationwide, the number of registered medical marijuana users reached
98,460 in September, more than triple the 30,537 one year earlier,
according to the latest numbers from Health Canada.

The increase has fuelled a proliferation of clinics specializing in
prescribing medical cannabis, including three in London.

Medicinal users run the risk of not having their prescription renewed
if they use dispensaries.

"Given that this is still a controlled substance, and it's considered
a narcotic, patients have to sign a treatment agreement," said Michael
Verbora, medical director at Canabo Medical Corp., a Canada-wide
company that recently opened a referral-only clinic on Thompson Road
in London.

Buying cannabis products from dispensaries poses dangers to patients,
Verbora said.

"There's a lot of potential harms, given that there's a lack of
regulation and oversight," he said.

But many medicinal users complain licensed producers often run out of
stock, require a credit card and take too long to deliver.

Emery, meanwhile, said she expects police will keep raiding
dispensaries, but that won't stop most of them from reopening.

"They all understand that they're engaging in peaceful civil
disobedience," she said. "So a lot of people are going to be
courageous and reopen."
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