Come this Thursday recreational marijuana users in Montreal will be able to walk into a store, browse for their favourite strains and walk away with a few grams of cannabis — all in defiance of federal drug laws. That's because a Canadian chain of recreational marijuana dispensaries is planning to open multiple locations in the city. But how long they'll stay open is another question.
Cannabis Culture, which operates dispensaries in 12 locations across British Columbia and Ontario, said it will announce the new Montreal locations on Dec. 14. They will open their doors to the public the next day.
The company's policy is to sell marijuana to anyone over the age of 19 and require a photo ID. They do not require a membership or a medical note. That means that under current federal law they operate illegally.
"All adults should have access to cannabis in an open manner," said Jodie Emery, who is the co-owner of Cannabis Culture with her husband Marc Emery, also known as Canada's "Prince of Pot."
"We've always pushed the boundaries, we use civil disobedience."
Emery said the dispensaries will serve as an example of what Canada's legalization model should look like. The locations to be opened in Montreal will be operated by a franchisee, she said.
The store will be supplied by growers in B.C. as well as local producers. Emery explained that she sees Cannabis Culture as a stepping stone for those growers to begin to transition into a legitimate operation ahead of legalization.
Federal legislation to legalize marijuana is expected to be tabled this spring. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that he wants local police forces to continue to enforce the law and criminally charge operators of illegal marijuana dispensaries.
Police raids looming?
Cannabis Culture dispensaries have had run-ins with police in the past. Over the summer a number of their dispensaries were raided by police in Ontario. Employees have been charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and possession of proceeds of property obtained by crime.
Cannabis Culture provides a lawyer for employees if they are arrested and charged.
Emery said she has not yet spoken to Montreal police, but is hoping for a face-to-face meeting. "Hopefully we can engage with the local community and authorities to explain why these peaceful businesses should be allowed to operate," said Emery, adding that their dispensaries contribute to the local economy.
If the Montreal police do end up raiding their locations, Emery said their policy is to reopen the next day. Montreal police said in an email that the dispensaries operated by Cannabis Culture are not permitted under current federal regulations that allow access to medical marijuana. They also said they would intervene if any dispensaries open.
Anna Maddison, spokesperson for Health Canada, the federal body that oversees the medical marijuana system, told CBC in an email that dispensaries are "illegally supplied, and provide products that are unregulated and may be unsafe."
In one case, Emery said police were able to stop a location from selling marijuana. She said the police in Peterborough, Ont., were particularly heavy-handed and the Cannabis Culture location in that city now is just a head shop, which sells accessories like pipes.
Cavalier, cowboy approach
For over 20 years Marc-Boris St-Maurice has helped Montrealers get access to medical marijuana, he also runs a compassion centre and is a registered lobbyist for the legalization of marijuana. In an interview Monday with CBC Montreal's Homerun, St-Maurice said Cannabis Culture's strategy shows a "cavalier attitude and cowboy-style approach of marching into town."
"I know there's a lot of money to be made and people want to position themselves in a new market," he said. "But it has to be done properly."
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His own centre has been raided in the past and he believes authorities will be less likely to tolerate Cannabis Culture locations because of their recreational nature.
St-Maurice said he fears that people, who may have been on the fence about legalized marijuana, will come away with a negative view of the industry. For the moment St-Maurice believes it's better to wait and respect the process the federal government has set out to move towards legalized marijuana.
By Brennan Neil - CBC/Dec. 13, 2016
Photo: Jodie Emery, insert-CDC
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