Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being called out for moving slowly on his promise to legalize marijuana — while at the same time there's been a surge in raids of dispensaries across the country.
In the past year, police in Canada have raided more than 150 cannabis businesses, arresting scores of owners and managers. Though the overall number of arrests for marijuana-related crimes declined from 2014 to 2015, ongoing enforcement efforts have prompted criticism of Trudeau, who campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana.
Jodie and Marc Emery, activists and co-owners of the brand Cannabis Culture, drew further attention to the issue over the weekend when Toronto police arrested them and raided six of their branded dispensaries. They were charged with "conspiracy to commit an indictable offense," Jodie said, a charge that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
"From the period of 2012 to 2014, a number of dispensaries opened up and were left alone because police knew that legalization was accepted by people and knew legalization was part of a party platform," Emery said. "There was a period there where law enforcement said it's not in the public interest, there's no harm being done, and as long as there are no complaints, we have better things to do."
The lax enforcement period has come to an abrupt end.
The perception in the U.S. that Canadian marijuana policy is more permissive and less concerned with enforcement is a misunderstanding, Emery said. The Liberal party that voted to include legalization in its official platform in 2012 has fallen short of its promises to decriminalize and regulate medical and recreational marijuana sales.
Trudeau in particular has disappointed legalization advocates. The prime minister admitted to using cannabis in his youth and pledged to legalize nationwide during his 2015 campaign, arguing that regulating cannabis sales would divert money from criminal enterprises and prevent citizens from receiving criminal records for non-violent offenses.
But even as the country moves forward with plans to legalize, Trudeau called on police to continue to "enforce the law" and prosecute dispensaries.
"We haven’t changed the laws — we haven’t legalized it yet," Trudeau said in December. "Yes, we got a clear mandate to do that. We've said we will. We've said we're going to do it to protect our kids and to keep the money out of the pockets of criminals."
That statement — echoed by other Liberal government officials in the months since — appears to have emboldened police to ramp up raids against dispensaries.