Police are cracking down on existing cannabis storefronts prior to opening government-run shops.
It’s a true statement that adults in Canada will be able to walk into a store and purchase marijuana in the same way they would a bottle of wine or a donut sometime next year — when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promised plan to legalize cannabis becomes reality — but only partially true.
When legalization transitions from thought into action next summer, it will also shut some existing marijuana businesses down.
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, 150 government-run weed stores will go into business sometime after July 2018. But right now, in Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities, there’s no need to wait. In most of Canada’s major urban areas, there are multiple storefronts in business where adults can walk in and purchase cannabis.
In Toronto, the country’s most populous city, there are dozens to choose from. In most cases, the only requirement to enter is that you be at least 19 years old (that’s also the province’s legal drinking age, see). They’re technically illegal, yes, and occasionally are raided by police, but this is Canada — they’re still around. All a raid means is a few days’ hassle, no worse than your favorite coffee shop temporarily running out of beans.
Whether you purchased your pot in a dispensary, on the street, or via one of Health Canada’s licensed medical-marijuana producers, there’s a place for you to smoke it in public without hassle. Toronto has more than a dozen cannabis-friendly cafes to choose from, some of which have been in business since 2003.
In other words, Toronto already has a small but vibrant marijuana industry. And all of it has to go — shut down and replaced with government-run shops only, according to strict regulations approved by provincial and city elected officials over the past week.
As the Toronto Star reported on Monday, Ontario leadership is serious about those 150 government-run weed stores. Those will be the only places adults will be able to legally buy recreational marijuana. Outlaw stores like Cannabis Culture will have to go (for real this time).
And the cannabis cafes will likewise be made to shut down. The only approved place to consume cannabis in Ontario will be in a private home.
Today’s relatively lenient penalties for lawbreakers will be stiffened and replaced with something stricter — perhaps actual prison time.
On Monday, Toronto officials signaled their approval of the province-wide plan. Predictably, existing cannabis businesses are apoplectic.
“They’ve essentially demonized cannabis,” said Abi Hod, owner of the Hot Box cannabis lounge and a director of Toronto’s Cannabis Friendly Business Association, in comments to the Star. Others had a stronger take: it’s a government takeover.
“I’d have great difficulty thinking of questions to which the answer is ‘create a government monopoly,’ but certainly ‘how should we legalize marijuana?’ would not be one of them,” radio host Rob Breakenridge wrote in an opinion piece published by the Global Post.
Toronto’s current plan to end its nascent weed economy and trigger a possible police crackdown — of the style seen in the United States among medical marijuana not too long ago — still needs full approval from the city council, but it sailed through a preliminary committee hearing with only minimal opposition.
The justification for this, repeated at every level of government from Trudeau on down to the local dogcatcher, is that legalization must be done “deliberately,” in a way that protects children. It’s not clear what threat the current status quo poses to kids — or why, exactly, existing marijuana businesses won’t get a chance to participate in the above-ground economy.
There’s also little reason to think that a government monopoly will be the only game in town —and that today’s cannabis sellers will go away quietly. Is Canada serious about triggering a crackdown on cannabis by legalizing it? Such an attitude is one American export that Canada doesn’t need.
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