Banff cannabis store bust highlights 'blowback' against recreational pot sales in Alberta, advocate says

The recent crackdown on a cannabis store in Banff highlights the "blowback" from the public in "conservative Alberta" despite more lenient police treatment in other parts of the country, according to a local pot advocate.

On Tuesday, RCMP in Banff shut down a newly-opened weed shop

Police arrested nine people at the Canna Clinic in Banff on Tuesday following complaints of illegal drug sales. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The recent crackdown on a cannabis store in Banff highlights the "blowback" from the public in "conservative Alberta" — despite more lenient police treatment in other parts of the country, according to a local pot advocate.

RCMP in Banff shut down the Canna Clinic in Bear Street Mall on Tuesday, less than a month after it opened, and arrested nine employees.

The store had a licence to sell pot paraphernalia, but according to nearby residents, it was also displaying and selling recreational marijuana.

Canna Clinic isn't the first store in Canada to jump the gun and sell marijuana before it's legalized. But RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters said the case was the first storefront operation of non-medicinal marijuana sales he had heard of in Alberta since the federal government announced plans to legalize recreational sale and use this spring.

Keith Fagin, founder of local pro-cannabis group Calgary 420, spoke with the Calgary Eyeopener Friday about the future of marijuana sales in Canada. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Q: Why would a business go through the trouble of opening a store to sell marijuana now?

A: There has been a lot of peaceful civil disobedience by doing this type of action and it's catching on across the country, so that's certainly a possibility. But the people involved right now aren't talking, so we aren't really sure of their motivation.

There's several stores in Toronto and Montreal that opened up just last year, but many of them have shut down. But there are stores that have been around for a couple of decades now in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal. They've been open and operating and the police are aware of them, but they cater to adults only and medical cannabis users.

So the police have turned a blind eye to it for the most part. But these newer ones in 2016 that have been opening up, they're opening up for recreational as well … so there's been a lot of blowback from government and the local city councils as well.

Q: What do you make of the RCMP's actions in Banff?

A: Well, they get complaints and they're going to act. With Canna Clinic openly selling like that, the RCMP stated they felt that there were people going in and out of there that weren't of medical use.  

Personally, I know they're operating in Calgary. They're operating in pretty much every city in the country, but mostly underground, discreet, not storefront-type things.

Opening a storefront in a town like Banff in conservative Alberta, it's to be expected that there's going to be complaints and the RCMP are going to get involved.

Hopefully we do get dispensaries. I know the task force has recommended that, and that's what we're hoping for, and that's what we're waiting on now.

Q: How easy has it become to get a licence for medicinal use if you wanted to buy it legally?

A: We've been doing that for years, but there are so few doctors. We are getting more as time goes on.

Five or 10 years ago, it was extremely difficult to find a doctor that would sign and if they did sign for their patient, they didn't want to sign for new patients because they didn't want to be known as a so-called "pot doctor." It's been a real grind for us. So it's fairly common, but it's still quite difficult if you don't know the right people.

It does need to be regulated by the government, but have it in a dispensary and not have it in, say, a liquor store. Drug stores are a possibility.

With a [medical] dispensary, these people are very knowledgeable about what they're doing and they collect the data from their customers ... each person, of course, is different, so you need specialty people who can tell you how to consume it safely and how to consume it in a healthy fashion, other than just smoking it.  

Q: All nine Canna Clinic employees are facing charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking. Do you see this as one of the last cases where this will happen?

A:  We know that [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau has said he's going to introduce legislation in the spring. I'm suspecting around April 20 [4/20 is recognized as a national weed day within cannabis culture].

That's just legislation and my guess would be probably the spring of 2018 and maybe even later because the regulations, they're working with the provinces and you have different levels of government. There's a lot of bureaucracy. There's a lot of red tape. It's going to take time.   

So legislation next year, maybe the year after that we'll see legalization finally, and hopefully, the task force-recommended dispensaries. We really need something like that for people to get safe, healthy consumption habits and safe and healthy products.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener