Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to legalize cannabis. To that end, he's assigned Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould to lead the charge, and made legalization part of the government's agenda for this parliamentary session. That's certainly encouraging given the inertia of the Harper years, and impressive for someone who's been on the job for less than two months.
But he isn't moving fast enough for the nation's "gray market" cannabis dispensaries, which are being raided by the RCMP despite the federal government's legalization mandate. The confusion has led many to wonder what the prime minister can do to fix this problem.
In an interview with Civilized, cannabis activist Marc Emery called on Justin Trudeau to order the RCMP to stop the raids. But can the PM do that? We asked three legal experts for their opinions, and here's what we learned.
1. Ottawa can help set priorities, but not tell RCMP what to do
"I don't think the prime minister can direct the RCMP to stop enforcing the laws," said Tousaw. "Certainly the RCMP have discretion, and the minister of public safety…can establish some priorities and resourcing, but I doubt it's going to take the form of a direction to simply cease enforcing the law.
Indeed, Tousaw says ordering police to stop busting individuals for possession is also likely too complicated, without an act of parliament.
There are some avenues to take that might make, for example, the simple possession offence less likely to be prosecuted. But I think it's fairly complicated. And I wouldn't expect anything in that regard.
2. RCMP should heed the laws of common sense
Darryl Davies, a criminology expert at Carleton University, says the Trudeau government can order a stop to the raids through Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
"The Commissioner of the RCMP reports to the public safety minister (exactly as a deputy minister does), the minister does have the authority to issue instructions either implicit or explicit to the RCMP as to which policies should be enforced."
However, Davies doesn't recommend this course of action, because it would appear to the public like a conflict of interest if a minister told the country's top cop which laws to enforce. Davies thinks the government should remove the potential for a conflict by reforming the justice system so that the RCMP Commissioner reports to parliament instead of a minister: "The RCMP should remain an autonomous, independent body that represents the House of Commons, not political parties."
However, Davies thinks the RCMP officers also need to make themselves accountable to the Canadian people, which means they should stop the raids.
"The RCMP are bound to serve the laws of the land that are on the books. But common sense must also prevail, which means that they shouldn't be making these busts at a time when the law is completely out of sync with Canadian values."
3. The government should start by decriminalizing cannabis
Neil Boyd, the director of the school of criminology at Simon Fraser University, also thinks ordering the RCMP to stop enforcing the law sends the wrong message:
"The Prime Minister could ask the RCMP to do this," he said via email. "But that would also be inconsistent with the current law in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act - arguably, something of the cart before the horse."
Instead, the government should table a bill to decriminalize cannabis:
"That would at least send the message that adults who consume cannabis should not be regarded as criminals - and would leave the larger questions of how to frame taxation and regulation for a more extensive inquiry by the House."
Of course, all of these suggested courses of action leave dispensaries at the mercy of RCMP, government decision-makers, and legislative processes that can take time to unfold. In the meantime, the dispensaries are still being raided.
Emery says dispensaries should stay the course until the legalization process is complete.
"Keep doing what you're doing," Emery said. "And keep opening after you're busted. Because we are going to prevail. And it's likely going to cause some people suffering and some losses of inventory. But ultimately, we have to keep pushing."