How long can someone get away with opening up a chain of illegal, adult-use pot shops in Montreal? Turns out the answer is, not that long.
In a move that was debated within the licensed and unlicensed pot community, Marc and Jodie Emery decided to expand their Cannabis Culture empire by attempting to open eight adult-use franchises in the French capital last Thursday.
By Friday evening the inevitable happened and all locations were raided and closed.
“I was held and arrested in the hotel for four hours. There were undercover officers at the hotel,” said Jodie Emery, CEO and one of the owners of Cannabis Culture, in an interview with Marijuana.com. “There was no evidence of anything in our rooms, so they just confiscated all electronic devices and released me and Cannabis Culture Editor Jeremiah Vandermeer.” Marc Emery was arrested at one of the locations and has been charged with drug trafficking and conspiracy.
Jodie went on to add that they received advanced notice of the raids from CTV News and The Montreal Gazette, who said police sources told them that raids would happen that day. “We knew police action might be a consequence, but we were also hoping that police could exercise discretion, given that many cities across Canada are regulating dispensaries.”
Not everyone in the cannabis community was pleased with the Emerys’ actions. Adam Greenblatt is the spokesperson for Tweed in Quebec, and he told The Montreal Gazette that the ruffling of local law enforcement could create a “political backlash” for retail cannabis distribution. That sentiment was reflected by some cannabis enthusiasts on social media, particularly in light of the progressive report given by the marijuana task force just one week earlier. The report called for the legal age of consumption to be 18, as well as allowed for dispensaries in provinces that want them.
Mayor Denis Coderre also put in his two cents after the arrests in telling CBC that Cannabis Culture should concentrate on how to operate legally in the future instead of breaking the law now.
The latest actions by Montreal police are another stark reminder of the mishmash of marijuana legality across Canada. One province over, in the City of Toronto, Cannabis Culture has six stores open for business and a whole bunch of medical dispensaries trying to keep a low profile.
Lisa Campbell works with many of the local craft cannabis suppliers through her underground but highly successful event Nuit Vert, which is a popular marijuana farmers market that sells various edibles and anything else a pot-lover would call heaven on Earth. She told Marijuana.com that, although she has tremendous respect for the Emerys, she was trepidatious about them opening up eight adult-use pot stores in Montreal at the same time.
“On one hand I admire the Emerys for pushing the boundaries, because patients need access and having recreational access is very important. But I do think that it was detrimental on another level in that [the task force]had just made that huge announcement with positive aspects to it, saying craft cannabis will be a part of legalization.”
Lisa added that by opening up adult-use storefronts, especially in Montreal where police have been aggressively targeting unlicensed cannabis businesses, was basically asking for an arrest. “I question what their goals are. If the goal is legalization, we are already on our way. If the goal is dispensaries, we are already on our way.”
In regards to why Cannabis Culture and the Emerys are pushing forward with their business plan, Jodie says that despite the good news from the task force, all is not right with the upcoming cannabis framework. “I would love to be legit in the future, rather than having the government continue to criminalize us, but at this point [the government]is looking to prohibit anyone with a criminal record from participating. So that means the pioneers like Marc and like every other activist who’s been arrested, are not allowed to participate.” She added that they object to that idea and cited Oakland California, where people with past pot convictions were granted preferential treatment when applying for marijuana business licenses.
No doubt, Cannabis Culture will continue opening stores wherever they can despite the constant threat of arrest. Whether or not this will help or hinder the efforts of the cannabis community as a whole will be determined when Prime Minister Trudeau presents his framework on cannabis legalization next spring. Hopefully, at that point, everyone can go “legit,” then have a joint and calm down.