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Come October 17, weed will be legal in Canada. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be available everywhere.While some provinces, including Ontario, simply won’t have a brick-and-mortar retail scheme set up by that deadline, other municipalities have opted to ban weed shops outright.Markham and Richmond Hill in Ontario, and Richmond, the city of North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Tofino, Abbotsford, Pitt Meadows and Whistler in BC, have decided not to allow pot shops in their jurisdictions. Canadians who live in areas that don’t sell pot will have to use a mail order system, similar to how medical cannabis is provided now.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who reversed former premier Kathleen Wynne’s plan for a provincial monopoly on pot sales, has given municipalities the opportunity to opt out of hosting a retail weed store. Stores will be set up by April 2019.Speaking to CTV News, Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow said he is taking up the premier on that offer.Richmond, BC, meanwhile has come out strong against pot legalization. Last fall, it asked the province to grant it powers to allow tight control of consumption within its borders."This is a suburb. We're not the heavy duty nightlife of Downtown Vancouver and the action-packed thrill of adventure of Surrey. In Richmond, we tend to live a more conservative lifestyle," said Councillor Carol Day, according to a CBC News report at the time. Meanwhile, Councillor Derek Dang said weed is a gateway drug that could lead to fentanyl use.“If you became an alcoholic, I don’t think you would start drinking the hard stuff first. You drink a beer then work your way up. We’ve already got drug problems with fentanyl, and it could be problematic,” he told Richmond News. The claim that weed is a gateway drug has been repeatedly debunked.In other places, such as Tofino, West Van and Pitt Meadows, it seems the ban is a temporary measure to allow municipalities to come up with their own regulations around pot sales. And municipal elections, which take place in October across BC, could change things.
Cannabis lawyer Jack Lloyd told VICE it’s “ridiculous” to allow municipalities to dodge implementing federal legislation.“Closed communities will push things back underground, which is the exact opposite of what the purpose of legalization is,” he said.Lloyd said the reason municipalities are banning cannabis sales boils down to reefer madness, especially when you consider all of these jurisdictions sell liquor.
“It is a stigma tied to the very roots of cannabis prohibition in the first place—a rejection of cannabis, which is associated with criminality and persons of colour, and an explicit acceptance of alcohol which is homogenized and controlled largely by white European Canadians.”Lloyd said it’s possible medical cannabis patients living in areas with no weed stores will be able to challenge the lack of access.Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.