What Pot Legalization Could Mean for Toronto

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What Pot Legalization Could Mean for Toronto

Here's your FAQ on legal weed legislation.

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Photo by Cannabis Culture via Flickr Creative Commons.

In the next week or so, the federal government is expected to announce plans to table legislation that will establish a framework for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada. For Toronto’s unregulated weed market, however, there are still many lingering questions. Here are some answers to key questions.

Where and how will weed be sold in Toronto?

This is the burning question for many people, and is not one that the federal legislation will provide an answer to. First and foremost, federal legislation is expected to download many of the regulations, including where it is sold and to whom it can be sold, to the provinces. Premier Kathleen Wynne suggested last summer that she would like to see pot sold in the LCBO. This is sensible, for the government, as it would largely spare them the cost of erecting an entirely separate infrastructure. The federal government, however, is expected to recommend the exact opposite: that pot be sold through its own controlled distribution network, rather than being sold next to alcohol and tobacco products. So, don’t expect to be able to pick up any bud on your trips to the Beer Store. 

The Wynne Liberals would be unwise to turn their backs on the existing network of dedicated pot shops—all of them staffed with budtenders who have experience retailing marijuana—but it’s just as unlikely that they will simply adopt the industry as it exists now. In any event, these are not questions that will be answered by this legislation.

Where will the stores be located?

The legislation is expected to recommend that restrictions be placed on where, and how many, storefront shops can operate. On the one hand, it will assuage the fears of those people, like Mayor John Tory, who are kept up at night with visions of a pot shop on every corner. On the other hand, it will be a let down to those who might, in fact, like to see pot shop on every corner. It’s reasonable to assume that there will be fewer stores than there are currently, and that zoning regulations will keep them away from schools and limit their density.

Will I be able to consume in public?

While many of the same restrictions that apply to tobacco—no smoking indoors or on patios—will apply to cannabis, the task force is recommending that dedicated spaces like vapour lounges be permitted. 

What about those charged during the ongoing raids?

Since last May, only 10 people charged in the Toronto raids have been committed to trial, while another 151 cases had been tossed, as of March 2017. The majority of these were through peace bonds, which lawyer Jack Lloyd has called a “progressive” approach to dealing with the charges. While raids are still ongoing, there are few low-level employees being arrested. Those I’ve spoken with were often given a warning; police seemed more interested in seizing product. While legalization will not become the law of the land until mid-2018, one can reasonably expect to see fewer arrests and fewer charges from Toronto police. However, they may or may not stop raiding dispensaries.

Will I be able to grow plants in my apartment?

The legislation is expected to recommend that Canadians be permitted to grow up to four cannabis plants in their own home. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that medical marijuana patients had the right to grow their own medicinal cannabis (with some restrictions regarding number of plants and how they must be grown), which has been popular among patients. For some patients, growing cannabis is the most cost-effective way of acquiring medicine, and the program is popular among those who require both large amounts and personalized strains. Luckily, legalization legislation appears ready to take this into account.

Police, of course, are objecting: The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police are requesting that the federal government rethink this aspect of the legalization, claiming that it would be too hard to police and would prevent regulation and oversight. While some of these concerns are technically valid—Canadians who grew cannabis could, in theory, exceed four plants and could, in theory, sell some of their harvest to their friends—there are hardly any concerns that would make outlawing personal growth a reasonable option.

Will I be able to purchase edibles again?

After the initial Project Claudia raids, edibles mostly disappeared from the Toronto market, as many dispensary operators felt that it would attract attention from Toronto police. While the task force is recommending that packaging be controlled in order to keep products out of the hands of children, it’s expected that edibles will be permitted, albeit regulated.

This is good for Toronto, right?

Broadly speaking, legalization could be great for the industry in Toronto. The success of the market over the past year—even amidst ongoing raids and police persecution—shows that there is a huge demand, and the potential for a thriving industry. And perhaps most importantly, it will give access to people who have long been denied it, many of them people of colour, LGBTQ individuals, people with physical and mental health issues, and other minorities.

Expect early legislation to be cautious, though; there’s no reason to expect the Liberals to go for broke on the pot issue just yet. That said, this will be the first step—and a big one!—towards a more equitable, effective, and evidence-driven approach to cannabis regulation.

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