Police can't ignore pot dispensaries: Waterloo Police Chief Bryan Larkin

A Kitchener user of a 'compassion club' says there should be different rules for pot dispensaries helping patients who need medication, but Waterloo Police Chief Bryan Larkin says it's a 'slippery slope' to treat some dispensaries different than others.

'Compassion clubs have a role to play in making sure that people have access to their medicine'

Police across the country have raided pot dispensaries. Waterloo Region Police Chief Bryan Larkin says police can't turn a blind eye to any illegal dispensary, even if it's serving the needs of medical patients. (Rebecca Silverstone/CBC)

New laws around marijuana use are on the way, but it doesn't mean police can stop enforcing the laws as they stand currently, Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says.

Recent media reports of raids of pot dispensaries across the country have had some asking why police bother with the raids when marijuana will likely be legal next summer.

"There's an assumption that dispensaries are going to be legal. Cannabis is going to be legal, but the framework and the way that it's going the rolled out has yet to be actually unveiled," Larkin told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Thursday.

Larkin said his officers took a "balanced approach" to dealing with local dispensaries. Police first approached the businesses to explain why they were operating against the law. Then a cease and desist letter was sent to the businesses.

Then, if the dispensaries didn't close down voluntarily, officers moved in and charges were laid.

Compassion clubs help patients

Peter Thurley of Kitchener uses medical marijuana and while he appreciates the approach the Waterloo Regional Police have taken, he would still like to see compassion clubs – dispensaries that tend to provide marijuana for people who need it for medical reasons rather than recreational use – have a different set of rules.

"When people think of a pot dispensary, they're thinking about these kind of skeezy weed shops that kind of pop up," he said. That's not what a compassion club is.

Currently, people with medical marijuana prescriptions can order it online.

"There are people out there who don't have access to their medicine in a way that works for them. It may be the case that they can order online. Unfortunately online … because of Health Canada rules, you have to order in larger quantities," Thurley said.

Hear more of Peter Thurley's interview: 

He said he understands the law is the law, but some discretion would be good for compassion clubs.

Law is the law is the law

"These compassion clubs have a role to play in making sure that people have access to their medicine," Thurley said.
A Toronto officer walks by police tape after members of the drug squad began executing search warrants on a handful of pot shops in Toronto in May 2016. (Amara McLaughlin/CBC)

Ottawa needs to consider differences

The raids are because of concern for public safety, but Thurley argued it's worse to shut down the compassion clubs.

But it's also not a local issue, Thurley said.

Larkin can "balance the social conditions of our community with the need for law and order," but Thurley said he needs to take the message to Ottawa that shutting down all dispensaries is harmful.

"What I'd like him to say is there are people who are now on the street who perhaps are getting drugs, hard drugs, illegally … they've turned from the grey market to the black market and that isn't very good for law and order in our community, that creates more opens for people to end up in the hospitals due to overdoses because once you turn to the black market you really don't know what's in it," Thurley said.

Pot laws won't be 'a free-for-all'

Larkin said turning a blind eye to compassion clubs is a "slippery slope" and they need to protect consumers.

"Dispensaries, there's still this myth, people say it's not the black market. It is the black market," he said.

Larkin noted dispensaries often skirt business license rules, don't pay tax and could have links to organized crime, all things police take seriously.

The government and chiefs of police across Canada believe in the "modernization" of the legislation and are waiting to hear what that will look like exactly.

But, he also warned, people should not expect an unregulated market once marijuana becomes legal.

"I think that there's this belief that on July 1, it's going to be Mardi Gras," Larkin said.

"Canadians should expect to see, when legislation's introduced very shortly, a regulated framework. That it's not going to be a free-for-all."


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