Article by HK Abell, High! Canada
Mark it on your calendars, dear readers – September 8 , 2017: the day the Ontario government completely dropped the ball (or selfishly picked it up and ran with it, depending on your point of view) in the legalization of cannabis.
In a press conference, it was announced that starting next year, they plan to launch 40 new cannabis outlets, run by the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), with a goal of 150 locations by 2020. I n d e p e n d e n t d i s p e n s a r i e s , operating in a legal gray area right now, have been “put on notice”, says Ontario Attorney-General Yasir Naqvi, and “will be shut down.”
The facts: Marijuana will be s old legally only at these locations, separate from alcohol, and only to those 19 years old and higher. Minors caught in possession of marijuana will not be charged criminally. You’ll only be able to smoke in private – so the pipe dream of being able to enjoy a coffee and a blunt in a caféhas gone in up smoke.
Well, at least it will be legal, now, you say, and yeah, I suppose. But wait, there’s more!
These new stores (nameless as of yet) plan to use the Beer Store model of sales – there will be no producton display, no buds to smell , no knowledgeable staff making recommendations based on experience, no edibles. In fact, it’s not clear exactly what these shops will be selling, but there’s no way that the current legal licensed producers will be able to supply them with the quantity of product they will need, never mind the variety that is currently available under the dispensary culture. The Ontario government plans to treat marijuana like a guilty little secret, kept locked behind closed doors. You’ll walk in to an empty storefront, just like the Beer Store, and order a pack of MJ Lights or what ever they decide to call their Labatt BlueCoors Light-Budweiser-Pabst Blue Ribbon of a watered down brand of marijuana.
Jodie Emery of Cannabis Culture was at the press conference, and she shares my opinion that all this is going to do is drive people back to the black market, a system that the has kept the police chasing their tails for years.“ Legalization was supposed to be the end of criminalization,” she said, “the end of spending millions (sic) on law enforcement and courts.”
There is another aspect of this decision that troubles me as well, and that is the medicinal angle. Millions of cannabis users have legitimate medical needs, and some mass-produced , fit-for-public-consumption-as-determined-by-some-officious-provincial-bureaucrat weed is not going to cut it. People seek out new strains and find their favourites – whether it be for pain relief or anxiety, or for seizure control. Marijuana is not one plant, but only one phenotype, with millions of variations. The fact that the Ontario government is treating it like tobacco and alcohol suggests to me that they are dismissive of the plant’s medicinal value. This sets a dangerous precedent, and cannot help but influence our culture’s already skeptical view of marijuana as medicine.
Still, I suppose it opens up wonderful opportunities not only for the black market, but for First Nations communities, who, in response to the province’s decision , have already begun discussion on how to proceed, according to Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne near Cornwall.
“We want to be able to determine what is the best economic model of cannabis,” Benedict said. “Two-thirds of our community is landlocked by the United States which poses some pretty unique challenges, [as] there’s no talk in the U.S. to decriminalize it. The product itself is strictly prohibited for two-thirds of our community.”
However, Akwesasne is one of two First Nations in Ontario that participates in the tobacco pilot project that allows it to collect the revenue of all tobacco manufacturing and sales on their land. The tobacco pilot project could be a model to regulate the marijuana industry too, he said. Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day sees this as an ‘unprecedented opportunity for First Nations, but also warns of ‘considerable risks’
Me, I’d love to see the return of the speak-easy model. If I had the capital, I’d open a coffee shop myself with a big back room. Suffice it to say, I will not be buying my marijuana from the LCBO. No, dear readers, I’ve decided to grow my own. As the legendary musician and marijuana activist Willie Nelson said, marijuana is not a drug – it’s a plant and a lower.
So, if you want me, I’ll be in my garden, tending to my lowers. Call me Mr. Greenjeans.