EDITORIAL: In the weeds

The federal government announced last week — on 4/20 no less — that it will have legislation ready in a year to legalize marijuana

It seems a harmless, wink-wink, nudge-nudge situation where the law really doesn’t mean much because it’s going to change soon.

Or is it harmless?

To say the regulation of marijuana, including how it is dispensed to the public, is in limbo is a gross understatement.

The federal government announced last week — on 4/20 no less — that it will have legislation ready in a year to legalize marijuana.

“We will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said at the United Nations. “We will work with law enforcement partners to encourage appropriate and proportionate criminal justice measures. We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.”

The health minister’s comments touched on most of the the important issues related to loosening the laws around marijuana. Keep it away from children. Check. Don’t create a law that benefits criminals and gangs. Check. Work with law enforcement. Check.

The last part is a sticky one. Police officers are duty-bound to enforce the laws contained in the Criminal Code of Canada. Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter, with Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre in full agreement, has been very black-and-white on this issue. Their take? It’s still a controlled substance and the dispensaries are selling illegal goods.

Hunter has been promoted to Inspector and will take over the Port Alberni detachment soon as its officer in charge (see story in today’s paper and more in Thursday’s paper), a city where there is a dispensary law and a pot shop has been granted a business licence. That could make for an interesting first year in Port for Hunter.

Thing is, Hunter isn’t alone in this pickle for law enforcement. What’s disturbing is the inconsistency in the way the issue is being handled by different detachments and police forces. Some (certainly not all) Campbell River and Nanaimo dispensaries have been shut down after raids by police. There are 30 in Victoria currently operating, minus the raids.

Some people need marijuana for medicinal purposes. Medical doctors wouldn’t prescribe weed if that wasn’t true. But where are they supposed to get it? Why is the law being enforced differently in different jurisdictions?

One thing is certain: until the spring of 2017, there will be confusion, angst and arrests.

— Editorial by John Harding

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