Tomorrow night, owners of 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in Nanaimo, British Columbia will gather at city hall to protest an RCMP order to cease operations.

Late last week, the dispensaries received threatening letters from the regional detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police:

"I am notifying you that you have seven calendar days to comply with this notice or you will be subject to police enforcement including the arrest of all employees and patrons on site and the seizure of all offence-related property from the premises," the cease-and-desist order warned.

These businesses are technically illegal because Canada currently prohibits storefront medical dispensaries. However, Canadians recently elected a pro-legalization federal government, so the warning came as an understandably unwelcome surprise to operators.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who has been given the mandate to legalize cannabis, was also caught off-guard.

"We were very clear in our platform and certainly we will be moving forward with this," she told CBC while pledging to investigate the matter.

Most of the recent attention has been on legalization for recreational use, but the Nanaimo situation highlights the need to reform of regulations governing the already-legal but tightly controlled medical marijuana industry.

A legal gray area

While it would be easy to vilify law enforcers in this situation, they are actually within their right to uphold the prohibition on storefront dispensaries.

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada limits the cultivation and sale of cannabis to licensed producers and distributors who sell medicinal marijuana through a mail-order system.

"We are enforcing the laws as they exist today," the Nanaimo branch stated in a written exchange with 420 Magazine.

But the law isn't being enforced consistently.

In nearby Vancouver, City Council has begun licensing some "gray market" medical dispensaries, despite the ongoing federal prohibition on storefront shops. They're being left alone by police.

Victoria, B.C., has taken a similarly permissive approach, and so has Ottawa, where a dispensary opened in the nation's capital and the local police force has not forced them to close.

However, the mayor and chief of police in Saskatoon recently organized a raid on the Saskatchewan Compassion Club dispensary.

Canadian law enforcers can't say why the existing laws are being so inconsistently applied across the country. When 420 Magazine asked why the laws aren't being enforced in Vancouver, the Nanaimo RCMP responded, "We can't speak to enforcement efforts/actions in another jurisdiction."

Unlike Saskatoon, the Nanaimo RCMP detachment appears to be acting on its own. Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay told CHEK News that he didn't call for a crackdown - but he won't ask the RCMP to back off, either.

"I don't believe it's our job to interfere with their activities" said McKay. "We could certainly voice our opinions but will it have an influence on them? I don't believe that it should."

A baffling impasse

The decision to crack down on dispensaries despite the new government's agenda and public opinion toward legalization baffles advocates such as Kirk Tousaw, the lawyer who made the winning case at the Supreme Court for a man who wanted to consume edibles as part of his medicinal marijuana regimen.

"I had hoped that we were into a period of transition towards a more rational approach to medical cannabis in this country with the change of government," he told CBC.

Meanwhile, the dispensary owners in Nanaimo are debating whether to defy the order and risk arrest in order to serve their clients and the community.

Brandy Cavanaugh, manager of the Mid-Island Health and Wellness, said closing down the illegal dispensaries is a boon for the black market - an argument that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made many times on the campaign trail.

"This is putting [marijuana] back onto the streets," she told CBC. "This is putting crime back onto the streets. This is putting it back into the children's hands when it is not regulated."

h/t CBC, Straight, CTV News, 420 Magazine, Check News