Article by Canadian Press via Huffington Post
Clients and advocates of storefront dispensaries say buying marijuana exclusively from stores regulated by Ontario’s provincial government will mean fewer options for medicinal users, little progress on eliminating the black market, and worse weed.
On Friday, Ontario became the first province to announce its plan for the sale and distribution of legalized marijuana. It will be sold through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and regulated similarly to how the province sells alcohol. Users must be over the age of 19, and are prohibited from consuming pot outside of private residences. The province will open 40 stores by next summer, when marijuana is legalized, and has said it will continue to crack down on illicit dispensaries, which will continue to be illegal.
“At first I was pretty happy that they had a plan,” says Peter Thurley, who uses marijuana to reduce his consumption of opioids, which he was prescribed to help him manage the pain from a burst bowel. “But I quickly came to realize that that the plan as it’s laid out is essentially a full government monopoly.”
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has said the province won’t act punitively, and will not criminally charge underage users caught with small amounts of marijuana.
But Thurley says he’s suspicious of that aim, given the federal government’s announcement Friday that they will spend upward of $274 million on enforcement.
“The government is talking about a public health approach on one hand, while the reality is, this was always going to be about government enforcement,” he says.
Leu Grant, who volunteers at Canna Connoisseurs in Toronto, agrees. Closing down community dispensaries and asking users to purchase weed from the government isn’t in the interest of consumers, she says.
“I think it’s very important to think about who this is benefiting,” she says. “It’s not really for accessibility of people who are sick.”
Grant says the regulation prohibiting the public consumption of marijuana signifies that the province isn’t prioritizing medicinal users. “A person who needs their medicine, and it happens to be marijuana, why can’t they take their medicine in a park?” she says.
“I would like to ask them why we’re allowed to smoke toxic cigarettes and drink alcohol in public, but not receive medicine,” says Sonya Serafin, another volunteer at Canna Connoisseurs.
Connoisseurs dispenses marijuana only to prescription holders, and Grant says she sees people every day who benefit from the knowledge of the dispensary’s staff. Putting experienced workers out of a job and training new employees about marijuana is counterproductive, she says.