Drugs

Canada's Pot Czar Bill Blair Calls Out Weed Dispensaries For Being ‘Reckless’

But activists say the federal government is pandering to big business.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, Canada
May 25, 2016, 4:26pm

Photo courtesy Flickr user Dank Depot

Liberal MP Bill Blair was highly critical Tuesday of Canada's grey market medical marijuana dispensaries, accusing their operators of being reckless and indifferent to the law.

"The current licensed producers are competing with people who don't care about the law, who don't care about regulations, don't care about kids, they don't care about communities, don't care about health of Canadians. They're pretty reckless about it. And so they're selling anything to make a fast buck before we get the regulations put in place," Blair, who is heading up his party's marijuana legalization file, said at an event in downtown Toronto attended by lawyers, investors, and representatives from licensed producers, according to the Globe and Mail.

Blair has up until now been mostly silent on the issue of dispensaries, which are illegal under federal law. (The feds plan to roll out legalization legislation next spring.) But cities like Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto have experienced an influx of pot shops and are now in the process of regulating them municipally. Crackdowns are underway in both Vancouver, where at least 22 dispensaries have closed since the end of April, and Toronto, where fines of up to $50,000 are expected to be handed out as early as this week.

Blair said the country's 28 licensed producers have been "exhaustive" about adhering to government regulations.

Queens of Cannabis, a Toronto dispensary operated solely by women, held a press conference Wednesday to respond to Blair's accusations.

"While Big Business is having a huge stake in legalization, dispensaries and patients across Canada are under threat," said Lisa Campbell, chair of Women Grow Toronto at the event.

"Dispensaries have been described as the 'heart' of access for most patients in the Supreme Court of Canada Allard Ruling. If dispensaries are the founding backbone of cannabis access in Canada, why is big business and government lobbying to shut them down?"

The Allard ruling, released in February, said forbidding medical cannabis patients from growing their own weed is unconstitutional.

Dispensaries have been providing marijuana to medical patients since the 90s, while the federal government has been "failing since 2001", Campbell said, adding the city of Toronto should wait until the Liberals legalize weed before handing out hefty fines.

"As women leading this industry as dispensary owners, bakers, nurses, doctors, lawyers and other professionals we are contributing to making our communities safer and healthier places."

The conflict over dispensaries has highlighted a battle between federally licensed producers who supply the government's medical marijuana program and local pot shops.

Yesterday, Canopy Growth Corporation, which owns two major licensed producers, Bedrocan and Tweed, held its own press conference at Toronto City Hall, where it announced "true compassionate pricing" of $5 a gram for certain strains of weed, and same-day delivery for registered patients.

Under the federal program, weed is only available through mail orders.

"Torontonians who are seeking a reliable supply of medical cannabis can now turn to the most affordable solution in the City, delivered same-day to their door, and rest assured there is no question about the legality and origins of their cannabis supply," Bruce Linton, chairman and CEO of Canopy Growth, said in a statement.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has asked the city's licensing department to provide a report on ways to potentially give dispensaries business licences—the same process that's currently being carried out in Vancouver.

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