Saskatoon’s police chief says the Liberal government needs to clarify Canada’s marijuana laws to combat serious misunderstandings about the legality of the drug.
“The police aren’t anti-marijuana,” Chief Clive Weighill said. “But we are in a situation right now that is a very grey zone.”
Weighill said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise that pot will be legalized for personal use, smoking, growing and selling weed in Canada is still against the law.
Weighill, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said the government needs to offer clarity to people — especially those who believe that because of the election promise, the drug is already legal.
“We’ve been asking the government to send a strong message out: the laws have not changed yet,” Weighill said.
Trudeau has tapped former Toronto police chief and now Liberal MP Bill Blair as the person who will lead consultations about the future of Canada’s pot laws.
Weighill said Blair has strongly indicated that Canada’s legal marijuana market will be heavily regulated and taxed.
“I think there is a big misunderstanding here that people think it’s going to be a free-for-all,” Weighill said.
He believes the pot industry will likely operate similar to the alcohol industry — producers and sellers will have to be licensed and there will be restrictions on who can buy the drug, he said.
Weighill isn’t the only who wants clarity. During a visit to Saskatoon on Tuesday, NDP leader Tom Mulcair told reporters he is not pleased with the government’s progress on the legalization of marijuana.
He said while the government waits on consultations, people are needlessly going to jail for simple possession of the drug.
“We’ve said nobody who is using marijuana for personal purposes should ever wind up being arrested or having a criminal record for that,” Mulcair said.
During the election, the NDP advocated decriminalization of marijuana.
Another piece of the regulatory puzzle for Weighill is the question of medical marijuana dispensaries. The owner of Saskatoon’s now-shuttered medical marijuana dispensary has asked city council if he can operate in a legal grey area.
Mark Hauk, founder of the Saskatoon Compassion Club, had argued that given impending legalization city council should set out the rules for medical dispensaries sooner rather than later. His request was rejected by city councillors earlier this week.
Hauk was charged last year with trafficking marijuana and possessing the proceeds of crime at his compassion club. Since the club closed, he says patients are suffering.
Weighill said until legalization happens, the laws about who can sell marijuana are clear — people who are unlicensed are not allowed to sell the drug even to patients who have marijuana prescriptions.
He said Saskatoon isn’t the only city to shut down medical pot dispensaries. Halifax, Toronto and Nanaimo have all recently raided similar storefront operations.
“There has to be equality before the law. We can’t let one open up and one not open up,” Weighill said.
The only Canadian city to allow medical dispensaries to operate with impunity is Vancouver, which Weighill said is an “anomaly” in Canada.