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This is just a public service announcement in case anyone out there has forgotten – the sale of marijuana is still illegal, whether you like it or not. Yes, the plan to legalize is in effect, and much to the surprise of many, the government Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation actually recommended legalizing marijuana not only for medicinal but also for recreational use. Yes, there are provisos and regulations, as well there should be, but if you think that it’s all above board as of right now, then you’ve not been reading the news.

Those operating cannabis dispensaries right now are treading a very fine line when it comes to the law, and they know it. Dispensary owners have the Supreme Court on their side when it comes to human rights, but as I’ve said before, the police are finding all sorts of other ways to shut dispensaries down. Fines are levied, antique by-laws are dragged out from under the stairs and enforced by people who are “just doing their jobs”, and dispensaries find themselves closing because of angry landlords. To many, dispensary owners are still looked at as criminals. Drug dealers dressed up in their Sunday best, perhaps, but still drug dealers. So if dispensary owners are looked at as criminals, who can they turn to when they themselves are victimized? Potential thieves know full well that dispensaries don’t have protection from the police, and so every single dispensary has a great big green target on it right now.

In the past few months there has been a rash of break-ins and robberies at dispensaries in Toronto, the latest involving two armed teenagers and a clever clerk who locked the would-be thieves inside while exiting the store and calling the police. Police have criticized dispensary owners for not reporting robberies, but there is an antagonistic relationship between the police and marijuana distributors that will not go away until marijuana prohibition has officially ended, and maybe not even then, as old attitudes and prejudices are not likely to die easily.

Since marijuana distribution has been an underground business until recently, dispensary owners are used to not being protected by the law. Even those who are following all the rules when it comes to who can purchase cannabis products are hesitant to turn to the police, and you certainly can’t insure what is still a controlled substance, so any theft results in a complete loss with nowhere to turn for recompense. Let’s be honest – in the black market marijuana trade, offences against dealers or growers, etc, were usually handled in less-than-savoury ways and certainly in ways not authorized by the criminal justice system. Is this sort of thing still going on? Of course it is. Or else, the business eats the loss and hopes that it doesn’t happen again.

Police are continuing to urge dispensary owners to report robberies, and I think that in the interest of all the bud-tenders and educators and clerks out there whose safety is in question, they should. But with owners reluctant to report crimes even when personal injury is involved, it becomes an issue of public health, and police need to prioritize when it comes to enforcing the law. If their job is both to serve and protect, then a little humanity and compassion is called for.

Stop treating victims like criminals. Protect your community. These same people – namely dispensary owners – will be legitimate, tax-paying business owners in a few months. Start building that relationship now, and protect them from the sharks who right now find easy prey in the form of cannabis dispensaries.

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