Pubdate: Mon, 05 Feb 2018
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Adrienne Tanner
Page: A9


It may be easier to halt fly-by-night marijuana sellers once legal,
because with regulation come clear rules

Somewhere in warehouses where Vancouver contraband goes to die are the
raw ingredients for quite the party.

In late January, liquor inspectors raided three British Columbia bars
and one private members' club for selling whisky bought illegally from
private liquor stores. Hundreds of bottles of fine, single-cask whisky
were confiscated because of archaic liquor laws that Attorney-General
David Eby now says he intends to fix.

That was followed days later by a police crackdown on the open-air pot
sellers who have for months merrily peddled their illegal wares on
Robson Street in the city centre.

Police made arrests and confiscated more than nine pounds of dried
marijuana and 23 pounds of edible products including gummies, baked
goods and oils. The market, which sellers claim is a protest to defend
affordable medicinal marijuana, was doing a brisk business because
prices were lower there than at the dozens of illegal storefront shops
also operating with impunity around the city.

That the raid on the legitimate whisky bars happened while the illicit
pot market was operating unimpeded was not lost on Vancouverites who
took to Twitter to point out the absurdity: No one could get away with
hawking hooch from a backyard still on a downtown street.

Prosecuting pop-up dealers is problematic in part because they have so
few assets but also because of the legal grey zone in which marijuana
now sits. If fines and warnings fail, the recourse is criminal
charges, which invariably lead to cries of persecution.

Vancouverites have little public appetite for saddling pot enthusiasts
with criminal records for a drug that will soon be legal. That was
part of the city's logic when it opted to license storefront cannabis
shops where every gram of the merchandise is illegal.

But when legitimate shopkeepers and food truck operators near the pot
market rightfully started to grumble about the impact on their
business, and the licensing fees they are forced to pay, police
conducted two back-to-back raids. A CTV investigation that caught some
dealers offering to sell to minors probably also hastened the response.

In any event, the raids have met with some success: On Wednesday, the
Robson Street plaza was clear.

The market needed to go. It lent a vaguely sleazy air to a public
space intended as a family-friendly gathering spot. And some of the
dealers were moving large quantities of product, police said after the

It may be easier to halt fly-by-night marijuana sellers once it is
legalized, because with regulation come clear rules.

The whisky raids are a good example. It is illegal for bars or private
stores to buy liquor from anywhere but the government's Liquor
Distribution Branch.

A few bar owners are known to slip into private stores to augment
their selection with spirits unavailable to them through the LDB.
Private liquor stores pay slightly lower taxes on spirits than bars,
but the motivation is access to better stock, not tax evasion.

It was an open secret and liquor inspectors tended to ignore the
transgressions. Still, a rule is a rule and when a complaint came in,
almost certainly from a competitor, the inspectors were legally bound
to act. And so it will go for marijuana when the time comes.

As for public sympathy for the subversive, counterculture ethos of the
dealers, get ready for that to vaporize as well.

Remember the cycling activists who snarled downtown traffic with
monthly Critical Mass rides less than 10 years ago? They and their
moral outrage vanished when the city invested in bike lanes. No one
would put up with such a protest now.

If it hasn't already, tolerance for black-market pot sellers will wane
once their product is firmly under government control and cannabis is
readily available for medicinal and recreational users across the country.

It is a stretch to believe the "protest" market is really about
affordability for medical marijuana users. Dealers will sell to anyone
with cash to buy. This seems more about commerce and the fear of
losing market share.

And when legalization comes, the pop-up dealers may find just as the
whisky bars did, their biggest enemies are corporatized competitors
who buy licences and play by the rules.
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