Filling the Leadership Void in Marijuana Regulation

With the increasing divergence between marijuana laws and public behaviour, some local governments have begun to take matters into their own hands. Whether recent efforts to develop legal frameworks to regulate retail pot shops will prove successful, there is little doubt that the activity remains illegal.

Reviewing the issue’s legal context, Tony Wilson of Boughton Law Corporation reminded delegates that the possession and sale of marijuana remains prohibited in Canada and only the federal government can amend the Criminal Code to change this. Only lawful medical marijuana may be obtained, only with a doctor’s prescription from a licensed provider, and only if delivered by mail through Canada Post.

He compared the proliferation of retail marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver and elsewhere to Mahatma Ghandi’s Salt Tax protests in the 1930s, calling them a brilliant campaign of civil disobedience and spin doctoring.

Faced with an explosion in the number of dispensaries, and the absence of Health Canada in the mitigating the resulting problems, local governments have had little choice but to engage the issue with its myriad health, safety and bylaw issues.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall described the range of impacts of psychoactive substances, from beneficial to chronically damaging. Relative to other controlled substances, including alcohol, marijuana’s impacts are demonstrably benign, he observed. Is marijuana illegal because it is bad, or is it bad simply because it is illegal, he wondered aloud.

Kendall presented the research on the “paradox of prohibition” that indicates health and social problems increase under regimes of both prohibition and free-market availability. A carefully regulated market can provide the maximum benefits with minimum of negative consequences, he said, meeting the public health objective.

Vancouver Cllr Kerry Jang described the rigorous research, analysis, and modelling that resulted in that city’s decision to regulate cannabis dispensaries. “When there is a problem on the streets, we have to do something about it,” said Cllr. Jang.

The process to obtain a business license permitting the retail sale of marijuana will be arduous but fair, address numerous civic policy objectives, and likely result in a dramatic decrease in the number of commercial locations engaged in the business.

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