Pubdate: Tue, 18 Apr 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Christopher Curtis
Page: A1
Referenced: Cannabis Act:


Longtime advocate says legalization process puts 'fox in charge of hen

Jodie Emery fought the law and the law won.

At least, that's the short version of how things went down when Emery
and her husband Marc tried to open five illegal marijuana dispensaries
in Montreal last December.

Hours after the dispensaries' carnival-like grand opening, the Emerys
were in handcuffs and police shut down all of their storefronts.
Though Emery had escaped the initial crackdown, undercover officers
caught up to her at a downtown hotel.

"I was getting to my room when these guys in plain clothes ran over
and said, 'Hey, Jodie, can we get a photo?' " Emery said. "I expected
one of them to pull out a cellphone but he pulled out a pair of
handcuffs instead."

As someone who has battled against Canada's marijuana laws for years,
it might seem only logical that Emery would embrace the Liberal
government's legislation to legalize recreation weed by summer 2018.
But Emery is skeptical.

"The whole legalization process is being guided by (former Toronto
police chief ) Bill Blair, a man who fought against marijuana for
years," she said. "You're putting the fox in charge of the hen house."

Case in point, Emery says, are provisions in the bill that mandate
14-year prison sentence to those convicted of selling marijuana to
minors. Selling tobacco or alcohol to minors, in comparison, is
punishable by a fine for first-time offenders.

Marc-Boris St-Maurice, who runs the Fondation Marijuana dispensary on
St-Laurent Blvd., also finds the legislation problematic.

"They're creating a whole new category of criminals in the process of
legalizing weed," said St Maurice, who has advocated for legalization
since he founded the Bloc Pot provincial political party in 1998. "For
example, a 19-year-old passes a joint to a 17-year-old, is that a
14-year jail sentence you could be facing? The law doesn't just say
selling to minors is illegal. Giving is also included.

"If you have over 30 grams (of marijuana) on you when you're out and
about, that's a two-year sentence. This is a huge problem."

Justice Minister Jody Wilson Raybould defended the penalties last week
in Ottawa, telling reporters they were necessary to keep marijuana out
of the hands of children. But both Emery and St Maurice - who have a
track record of fighting marijuana prohibition in the courts -
question whether the penalties would survive a constitutional challenge.

The other major stumbling block for St-Maurice will be distribution.
The proposed law, called Bill C-45, gives provinces the mandate to
determine how and where marijuana will be sold.

Last week, the union representing 5,500 employees of the Societe des
alcohols du Quebec implored the provincial government to take control
of the cannabis trade. Only a state operation "whose social and
financial objectives are defined by the government" is in a position
to "ensure the strictest respect for government standards and the
framework," said Alexandre Joly, president of the Syndicat des
employes de magasins et de bureaux de la SAQ.

"If the government decides to set up their own state-run SAQ sort of
place, I don't think customers will be particularly well-served," said
St-Maurice. "If Quebec puts up something too restrictive and hard to
manage, people are just going to keep going to the black market.

"Even though, right now, there's a black market and it's illegal, it
caters to people's needs. There's home delivery, you get a selection
of what there is. You see variety."

One advocate says there's a possible way around the headaches that
come with legislating marijuana distribution in 13 provinces and
territories. Under the system Health Canada put in place for medical
cannabis, patients mail-order their product from one of 43
federally-licensed producers.

"While this jurisdictional argument happens, there will also be a
mail-order system that's preserved as well. That bypasses local
jurisdictions," said Adam Greenblatt, who works for the Tweed brand of
medical cannabis.

"The feds don't have to worry about 13 different provinces and
territories making their own system. Everyone in Canada gets mail."

In anticipation of a vast legal market, Canada's largest medical
marijuana producers are ramping up production and building millions of
square feet in new greenhouses. Bill C-45 puts companies like Canopy
Growth - whose product is tested and regulated by Health Canada - in a
position to dominate the multibillion-dollar trade.

But, Emery says, she doubts the licensed producers have the
infrastructure to feed a market that could be "10 times bigger" than
the medical space. And with new, harsher penalties in place for
selling the drug, she says the bill is essentially prohibition by
another name.

St-Maurice - who founded his dispensary in 1999 to supply medical
marijuana patients - says it's possible Bill C-45 will put him out of
business. The irony is that it was his arrest for drug trafficking and
subsequent court victories that helped pave the way for legal access
to medical cannabis.

"We've done this for 20 years and we want to be included in the
(legal) process," he says. "Will they put us out of business? I would
hope they'd try to keep us involved. We could also try to thumb our
noses and challenge in court. If we have to, we're prepared to fight
for our rights in court."

- - Andy Riga of the Montreal Gazette contributed to this report.
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