“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
That, in essence, is exactly what the activists behind the Cannabis Culture chain are doing in Canada with their fledgling — and illegal — shops in various cities: disobeying unjust laws. And, in the case of marijuana, never has that responsibility to disobey an unjust law been more urgent in Canada.
The back story for readers outside of Canada: The current Liberal government helmed by Justin Trudeau was swept to power on, among other things, the promise to legalize marijuana for more than just medical users — as is currently the case. A year later this month, the government has received a task force report laying out the foundation of legalization, and the Liberals will introduce their bill in the House of Commons in the spring, where it will easily pass because they have a majority government. From there it will go to the Senate, where it could be hung up until late in the year. Assuming it passes there, it would become law, and legal marijuana could be sold in shops by 2018.
But Trudeau has made some worrying doublespeak statements recently about marijuana. First, he stated that his government wasn’t legalizing pot for recreational users, but was only doing it because it recognizes that people will smoke it anyway and he wants to take the business out of the hands of organized crime and the like.
And worse, Trudeau has emphasized several times that current laws against selling and possessing marijuana must stand and be enforced — and his government has ignored pleas by the NDP and others to at least soften the anti-marijuana laws in the meantime.
And, as one person mentioned to me, there is always the possibility that the Senate — which no longer rubber-stamps bills from the House because of reforms implemented by Trudeau — could kill the bill altogether.
In other words, the legalization of pot for recreational use in Canada is far from a done deal.
But most pot users in Canada feel that it is all but a done deal. And they are eager to buy it openly — and are fed up with waiting for the slow wheels of bureaucracy and, perhaps, don’t entirely trust the government to get the job done.
Enter the Cannabis Culture chain, which has storefronts in Vancouver, Toronto and, now, Montreal, where it is in the process of opening as many as 10 shops. Some of those shops opened on Thursday, to great fanfare and heaping amounts of media attention. Journalists flocked to the official opening where the founders and chief activists, Marc and Jodie Emery, held court, and people lined up around the block in the bitter arctic cold to buy some of the gentle herb in a real storefront setting.
Of course, both Marc and Jodie expected to be arrested in Montreal because their shops are not legal — even though they will pay sales tax — and marijuana is not legal. And Marc was arrested Friday evening along with 9 other people by Montreal police.
Marc has been arrested before in other cities, and their Cannabis Culture shops closed, only to reopen a few days later and carry on — until authorities simply appeared to have given up.
There was no doubt: Montreal police would raid the Montreal Cannabis Culture shops and arrest one if not both of the Emerys. Mayor Denis has decreed it: there will be zero tolerance for the shops, he has said. And Justin Trudeau said the law should be enforced.
To which the Emerys say, essentially: Go ahead. Bust us.
You see, they are activists as well as businesspeople, and they are calling Trudeau out with this: “If it’s wrong to arrest people two years from now, it is wrong to arrest them today.”
In other words, they are showing up the hypocrisy of a system that they feel — and all other pot users have felt since the 1960s — has wrongly suppressed the usage of marijuana, and wrongfully imprisoned and otherwise oppressed marijuana users.
And the Emerys have come to the right city to do it.
Unlike other cities in Canada, young people and many older folks, too, tend to take to the streets to demonstrate when they don’t like what governments at the municipal and provincial levels are doing. Or what the police are doing. We’ve seen it with student uprisings that paralyzed the city for months on end. We’ve seen it with people demonstrating against police violence.
And we might just see it in response to police cracking down on Cannabis Culture shops.
You see, Montrealers are getting a taste of what it is like to be able to walk into a shop and buy pot. And they like that freedom to do so.
Anybody who dares to take away that freedom now may set off demonstrations in the city as it begins its 375th anniversary celebrations, the pet project of Mayor Denis Coderre who is spending untold amounts of taxpayers’ money for frivolous party accessories nobody really wants.
There is no turning back.
Photo credit: Jodie and Marc Emery (Source: Sadie C/Wikimedia Commons)