N.S. cannabis dispensaries fight to stay open amid police crackdown

Just over a month after recreational cannabis was legalized and the NSLC became the sole legal distributor in the province, illegal dispensaries remain in operation despite repeated warnings from police.

Halifax Regional Police say they hand-delivered letters to dispensary owners advising them of the hefty fines they could receive for the sale and distribution of cannabis.

Those fines can go as high as $10,000 for sales and $25,000 for operating a store.

“We took initiatives to make public awareness before that,” HRP’s public information officer John McLeod explained. “What the changes would be and to let people know what was coming.”

“Since then we are taking another initiative and stepping forward and that initiative is really to send a clear message to the people that are continuing to be associated with these illegal dispensaries that you should fully expect to be the subject of a police investigation should you continue to associate with these illegal dispensaries.”

“We say they were illegal prior to legalization and they continue to be the same,” he said.

Many dispensaries closed their doors once the drug was legalized on Oct. 17 amid the warnings from police. Those who continued with business as usual cite a lack of access for medicinal users as the reason why they aren’t backing down.

Defence lawyer Sarah White says she’s been working with clients who say legalization hasn’t made access any easier for those who require cannabis for medical reasons, which she says is a strong argument for keeping some dispensaries open.

“If you’re just someone who wants to smoke a joint on a Friday night you can go to the NSLC store and get one,” she explained. “But if you have a very serious illness and you want some medicine and you use cannabis medicinally, you can’t do that. You have to go through the mail order system and sometimes it takes days to get that.”

“I just don’t think it’s feasible to have the recreational stores and not have a medicinal place for someone to get it. That just seems a little bit backwards.”

White says across the country there are similar instances of dispensary owners challenging provincial laws in efforts to remain open and provide clients with medicinal marijuana.

Although she doesn’t expect any immediate changes to legislation White believes some of those cases will begin to provide dispensary owners, and patients, with a clearer picture of what medicinal cannabis access will entail in the near future.

“There’s a case in Toronto in December as well as a case here in December, two of them actually,” she explained. “So we’re hoping to get some decisions from the court, trying to give us some direction, as to what people are going to be deciding.”

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