Legalization limbo: marijuana in grey area while government prepares change in the law

It has been almost a year since the federal government announced it would legalize marijuana and since then the green stuff has been in a gray area in both the courts and gardens of northern Ontario.

Federal government has promised legalization legislation this spring

James Gough of Sudbury says he believes he is legally growing marijuana, which he takes as medicine for HIV. (Erik White)

James Gough grows marijuana on his kitchen counter and in flower pots in the backyard of his apartment building in the Donovan neighbourhood of Sudbury, Ont.

The 54-year-old says he's been raided by police several times in the years he's smoked marijuana as treatment for HIV.

But Gough said he hasn't had a knock at the door in the year since the federal government announced it would legalize marijuana. 

"I'm legal as far as I'm concerned," Gough said."If the Government of Canada wants to come after me again for growing my own medicine, well, then that's their decision."

He also is angry at Ottawa, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular, over what he sees as a broken promise on legalization — the reason he said he voted for them in the 2015 election.

54-year-old Sudbury man James Gough believes that if marijuana is legalized, all Canadians should have the right to grow their own. (Erik White/CBC)

The government announced April 20, 2016 that it would present a bill on how it was going to do that in the spring of 2017, but there is no word yet.

Liberal MP Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, is heading up the task force on legalization. He was in Sault Ste. Marie last week to hold public consultations. But neither he nor Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan have made themselves available to speak with CBC News about it.

Sudbury police say nothing has changed for them in the last year and they continue to enforce the laws as written, even though the amount of marijuana that officers have seized in the city has dropped dramatically from 48,609 grams in 2014 to 20,653 grams last year.

Sudbury defence lawyer Glenn Sandberg said he's definitely noticed a difference in how marijuana cases are handled in recent years and the last year in particular.

"Number one, the police not being as ambitious in laying charges and number two, the ones that do end up in charges, the federal crowns have been increasingly more ... reasonable," said Sandberg, adding that alternatives to probation and prison such as community service are used more often now for marijuana cases.

No marijuana dispensaries have been set up in northern Ontario, but North Bay clinic Canada Releaf has partnered with an online pot shop. (Associated Press)

Unlike other parts of the country, no storefront dispensaries have sprouted up in northern Ontario in the last year.

But a new business is trying to make it easier and cheaper for northerners to get their hands on medical marijuana.

Canada Releaf opened in North Bay a few months ago, offering free licenses that some clinics are charging $700 for.

It has also partnered with an online dispensary where customers can buy marijuana leaves, as well as candies and oils.

Dustin Gennoe started the business after finding it hard to afford both a license and the marijuana he takes for nausea.

"We're doing it because we're not trying to make money off people who are sick," said the 26-year-old. 

"A lot of people in the northern Ontario communities can't necessarily afford to get that as well as their medication."

Gennoe would like to see the federal government officially list marijuana as medicine, so Canadians could get it covered by their health benefits, even if the drug is fully legalized.