Impending legalization of pot cause for confusion

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>Corey White, owner of medical marijuana dispensary Cannabis For Life in Chester.</p>

Although the impending closure of a dispensary in Bridgewater has caused an uproar among many, the town isn't the only one trying to grapple with illegal dispensaries popping up.

While it may be legal for those with prescriptions to purchase marijuana or grow it, it can only be bought through 44 facilities that have been licensed by Health Canada. Storefronts, and therefore dispensaries, are not legal, but they continue to pop up in cities and towns across Canada, causing confusion and enforcement issues among officials.

In the Municipality of the District of Chester it appears a dispensary - Cannabis For Life which opened on May 29, has been allowed to operate and even been issued a sign permit seemingly by accident.

"We granted a permit for signage, not realizing they did not meet the legal requirements to operate a dispensary, so therefore we have revoked their permit for signage and they have 30 days, and we don't know what their response is going to be," said Allan Webber, warden of the municipality.

Webber says it was believed that a medical dispensary was legal and that the owner would obtain special permits from the province, similar to how a liquor licence might work for a bar.

"It's a commercial property so commercial activities are allowed there, so we treated it much the same as if someone had come in and wanted to open a bar," said Webber. "What we didn't realize is that the guy didn't have the appropriate credentials to operate a marijuana dispensary."

When LighthouseNOW pointed out that storefronts are not yet legal in Canada even in the case of medical marijuana, Webber admitted that the municipality "made a mistake in many respects."

"It was the first, and all he really needed from us technically was the permit for the sign, we granted it and probably shouldn't have."

The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has dealt with many dispensaries over the past year or so, including some that insisted on selling marijuana or THC infused products, even to those without prescriptions.

"We would not issue a permit for medical or otherwise due to federal regulations prohibiting the sale," said Nick Ritcey, senior communications advisor for the HRM.

In order to operate a business in HRM, an occupancy permit must be obtained. Because dispensaries aren't legal, occupancy permits cannot be issued and those that open up shops risk being fined a minimum of $100 a day for by-law violations. After that, it's up the HRM's police force to raid and shut down the offending business.

"If something pops up that doesn't have an occupancy permit, that by-law would be enforced," said Ritcey. "The fine will inevitably be determined by a provincial court."

Auntie's Health and Wellness, for example, was raided multiple times and shut down several times. Although it seems police sometimes turn a blind eye to shops selling to those with prescriptions, Auntie's Health and Wellness started selling to those even without.

"Currently the law is you cannot traffic drugs, and we're aware of these storefronts. We're monitoring the situation. It's not our main concern at this point in time to do searches on these locations. However, if we get a public complaint, we will investigate," Const. Dianne Penfound told Global News in early February 2017.

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to have recreational marijuana legal by July 1, 2018, it's still unclear how and where the product will be sold, how old you have to be to purchase it and other legislative questions, some of which will be up to individual provinces to determine.

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