Dear Herb: I am curious about what you think will happen to the well-known illegal dispensary in Whitby, Ont., called Cannastop. I work there, and I'm worried we will be getting hit hard soon and I will be going down. Thanks for your help, Herb. — Cannabis Clerk
Dear Cannabis Clerk: In my opinion, the future looks pretty dim for illegal Canadian cannabis dispensaries such as Cannastop. (I've written about this in the past.)
But since then, the situation in Ontario has changed a great deal. The provincial Liberal government's plans for an enormous government cannabis retail monopoly turned to ash when they were ousted by Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives, who quickly announced plans to open retail cannabis storefronts to the private sector (online sales will remain in the government's hands).
Will Cannastop and other illegal cannabis dispensaries in Ontario be allowed to join in the legal retail fun? It's possible. On the one hand, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedelli described his government's choice to open up the market to the private sector as "an opportunity for small business to get involved."
On the other hand, Fedelli was clear that existing illegal dispensaries with legal aspirations will have to shut down before the Cannabis Act takes effect on Oct. 17, then apply for licences just like anyone else.
"If you are still operating an illegal retail operation after October 17, you would not be able to get a licence in Ontario," said Fedelli.
As far as government statements go, that one's remarkably clear.Advertisement
Cannabis Clerk, if your employer plans to shut down before Oct. 17 and reopen after successfully obtaining a licence from the provincial government, I suppose you'll be out of a job (at least temporarily).
But if your employer plans to keep running this store illegally after Oct. 17, I think you're right to worry about getting in trouble for working there.
The federal Cannabis Act will give law enforcement plenty of new tools to prosecute illegal cannabis sellers. At the very least, I imagine an employee at an illegal cannabis dispensary could be charged with federal offences such as distribution of illicit cannabis or unauthorized sale of cannabis. (That's before any applicable provincial charges.)
Plus, it looks like the Cannastop dispensary in Whitby has been busted by police as recently as this spring, so the store is definitely known to local authorities. According to that article on DurhamRegion.com, eight people were arrested and five were charged during the March raid, which suggests that individual dispensary employees are definitely on the hook for breaking the law.
I can't say for sure whether your dispensary will be raided, or whether you "will be going down" if that happens, but the odds don't look good. Considering the clear message from the government of Ontario that illegal dispensaries will no longer be tolerated after Oct. 17, I think the smart move here is pretty clear.
Why should an employee of an illegal cannabis dispensary such as yourself should risk serious legal consequences, including prison time, to sell cannabis on someone else's behalf?
If you don't have a good answer to that question, I think it's time to find a new job.
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