25th Annual 4/20 Protest Set to Bloom In the Legal Cannabis Desert
CANNABIS CULTURE – It’s been six-months since the Canadian Liberal Government imposed their exclusionary legalization plan. Six months, and Canada remains a legal cannabis desert. Even worse, ethically run, job-providing dispensaries have been forced to close nationwide while well-connected licensed producers have come nowhere near supplying the medical market, let alone the recreational one. What product the LPs have been able to produce has been proven to be inferior. This reality, as predicted by Cannabis Culture Magazine and “black market” industry experts, has left Canadian consumers unable to find quality, reliable licensed sources to supply their medicinal and recreational needs. As such, many have returned to reliable illegal sources. In essence, otherwise law-abiding people are forced to be break the law because the law is broken. Business as usual in the cannabis world.
Now, the 25th anniversary of 4/20 – perhaps the single most important date celebrating liberty in the grassroots “illegal” international cannabis community – is less than a month away.
Preparations have been ongoing for quite some time to ensure the date is marked accordingly, but despite legalization, there is a shadow hanging over the occasion. Cannabis is less accessible in 2019 than it was just last year.
Since legalization, provincial courts across Canada have been ordering dispensaries to close until they receive their licenses. Law enforcement officials across the country have been closing down dispensaries, causing activists to protest that business licenses are not being issued quickly enough to absorb the demand for cannabis throughout Canada.
“It hurts people to close down these cannabis dispensaries” said Jeremiah Vandermeer, CEO of Cannabis Culture, which had to shutter 3 cannabis dispensaries in Vancouver this year to avoid steep fines and possible imprisonment.
Standing in protest outside Vancouver’s City Hall in February, Vandermeer demanded through a megaphone that Mayor Kennedy expedite the licensing of dispensaries across the city. “[Vancouver’s] only got three legal ones, and those dispensaries aren’t allowed to carry good quality product.”
Many dispensaries, like the three operated by Cannabis Culture in Vancouver, have chosen to close their doors rather than face the fines and possible imprisonment that would accompany further resistance to the court orders.
Beyond reducing the supply of cannabis, this move has also had a serious effect on people who make a living from cannabis. The closure of just the Vancouver Cannabis Culture dispensaries resulted in over 50 layoffs, and other dispensaries across Canada have faced similar circumstances.
In an article for the Daily Hive, Dana Larsen, director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society and organizer for this year’s Vancouver 4/20, wrote that “despite “legalization” there is still much to protest and much work to be done in terms of achieving equality and fairness for cannabis users, both here in Vancouver and all across Canada.”
One of the issues that has reportedly caused delays in Vancouver is the different distances that dispensaries have to be from schools, parks and other dispensaries in order to qualify for a Business license.
In Vancouver, this distance is 300 metres, double the distance required for liquor stores. Most other provinces have been less restrictive; Alberta’s rules dictate a distance of 100 metres, and while Ontario’s new Premier Doug Ford had previously caused concern in the cannabis community by calling for a 500 metre “protective” radius around schools, he agreed to 150 metres upon becoming premier.
Another concern has been the power of landlords to prohibit tenants from growing cannabis plants. In provinces like New Brunswick, Ontario and British Columbia, landlords have warned that they will evict cannabis growers even though cannabis has become legal.
The dangers of these closures are often not immediately obvious. “Absolutely people are going to die because of that,” said Neil Magnusson, a regular activist on Pot TV. “There’s thousands of people that have been accessing high-dose edibles from these dispensaries to not use the hard street drugs.”
This statement is supported by research. In a recent paper by Yu-Wei Luke Chu of Michigan University entitled “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Hard Drug Use?”, Yu-Wei concludes that communities that have legalized cannabis have experienced a significant reduction in opioid treatments.
There have also been concerns about the quality of the cannabis being sold in licensed dispensaries.
“The people producing this cannabis don’t have much experience producing cannabis,” said Marc Emery at a November 2018 protest in outside the government-run SQDC stores in Quebec, where he tried to get himself arrested for “promoting” cannabis culture.
“When I was sourcing out cannabis, I was dealing with people who had grown for generations. […] People who’d gotten their mistakes behind them.”
This has been a common complaint among experienced users who have been forced to deal with what is often badly produced cannabis in licensed dispensaries. “It’s full of pesticides,” says Vandermeer, before adding, “right now, there’s supply shortages so there’s not even any of it anyways.”
Which is another point of concern for cannabis users across Caada.
While assurances have been made by cannabis providers that they are working to meet demand, there have been semi-constant reports of cannabis shortages in licensed dispensaries. Provincial governments are quick to point out that cannabis users can purchase their cannabis online, but multiple-week delivery times means that this is not a feasible solution for regular cannabis consumers.
Moreover, according to Internet World Stats – a website that tracks internet usage – more than 10% of Canadians do not use the internet, meaning they might be faced with the closure of the only source of cannabis they have.
Despite the loud protests from cannabis rights activists however, progress has been slow. Across Canada, dispensary owners are being left in a limbo as to whether they can continue to inhabit the legal grey area where they have been operating from in the last few years.
Some of this is down to the bureaucratic steps that have to be enforced before businesses can finally get their licenses. In an email explaining the progress of license dispensation, the City of Vancouver says that: “Since September 19, 2018, the City has received notification from the Province of 31 Vancouver applications, most of which are in a location with a valid development permit. Thirteen applicants have completed public notification, and the City has completed an assessment of these applications. All 13 have been recommended to the Province for approval. Additionally, the City has notified 11 applicants of their next steps and is currently reviewing 7 in order to provide them with their next steps (for a total of 31).”
While these figures are undoubtedly better than the current figure of 3 dispensaries operating legally in Vancouver, they are still far under the number of dispensaries that had opened organically to meet demand by April 2018.
For this reason, the organisers of this year’s 4/20 event in Vancouver are set to maintain it as a protest, despite legalization being seen as a victory. Already last year, event organiser Dana Larsen explained in an interview with CTV that “There’s some good things in the Cannabis Act, but it’s by no means the final piece of legislation that we need to really end the stigma and punishment of cannabis users in Canada.”
So while some people celebrate their silver anniversary with 4/20 – and the first in the era of Canadian legalizations – the shadow of the law, protest and injustice will be inevitably cast over the festivities.