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Storefront marijuana dispensaries are not a legal business in Canada. The sheer number of locations that have popped up may give some the impression that you can legally buy from a dispensary. However, this is not the case.

If you are planning to apply for a pardon (Record Suspension) or a US Entry Waiver, you may want to steer clear of these businesses. Any negative police contact can affect your application, even if charges aren’t laid. If you are inside a dispensary when a raid takes place, a police officer may take your name and other identifying details even without pressing charges. These details can then be accessed by the Parole Board when they are making their decision. If it happens to show up in a police check, the US border can deny you entry.

Marijuana dispensaries may seem like a safe option given their highly visible locations in busy places like Vancouver’s Gastown or Toronto’s Danforth. However, the reality is that they are frequent targets for robberies and police raids.

The best and only way to buy marijuana legally in Canada is to ask your doctor for a prescription and buy from a regulated supplier. If you have a licence to use marijuana, you may grow a limited number of plants or designate someone to grow for you. That person must obtain a certificate.

How can marijuana dispensaries operate?

There are many marijuana dispensaries in Canada. Although it’s difficult to estimate, the Vancouver city website says there are 100 in its municipality. Many of these businesses will shut down under police or regulatory pressure, but many have lasted a year or more. Some of the reasons for their ongoing operation are:

Lack of police resources: The police don’t consider this the highest priority, especially given the serious opioid overdose crisis Canada is experiencing. Most often when a raid happens they are responding to complaints.

Arguable legal grounds: Canada’s initial medical marijuana bill faced a court challenge saying that it violated the constitutional rights of patients by being too restrictive in forcing people to only access the drug through the mail from legalized suppliers. The government’s response was to allow people with a legitimate need to grow at home or designate a person to grow for them. However, this does not legalize commercial sale. Nevertheless, this is likely a constitutional argument that would be made if a dispensary owner were to end up in court – that the law impacts the constitutional rights of patients. This is why many dispensaries will only sell medicinal marijuana to people with a documented need.

Public support: Canada is prepared to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018, and many polls show this plan has widespread support. As well, buying from a storefront is not without risk, but it is perceived as less risky than buying in an alleyway. Driving illegal activity underground does not necessarily make communities safer. There are many reasons why Canadians are willing to accept the existence of dispensaries in their neighbourhoods.

Licensing: Vancouver was the first community to licence these businesses to reduce the potential harms. Some dispensaries have managed to obtain these $30,000 licences, while others were forced to close under repeated fines. The regulations state that they must be located in commercial areas and away from schools and community centres.

Business case: Many of the dispensaries operating today have their hopes set on becoming part of Canada’s legalized market. They have employed lawyers, purchased the municipal licences when required, and tried to keep a clean image by only selling medicinal marijuana. It remains to be seen if they will be able to make the leap from illegal to legal sellers.

If you have been affected by the criminalization of marijuana, you may have a criminal record. A record can hold you back in career, travel and education. As well, the federal government has suggested that people with criminal records will not be allowed to be part of the legalized market. Clear your record today for the future. Contact us for a free consultation at 1-866-972-7366.