Canada’s medical marijuana fiasco came into sharp relief on Thursday when police in Toronto raided 45 illegal pot dispensaries and seized hundreds of kilograms of cannabis and its related products. Activists were outraged, the police were both apologetic and unapologetic, and, as always, the public was confused.

The situation is a mess. It is now looking as though the Liberal government should have anticipated Canada’s chronic confusion when it announced last month that it would wait an entire year before introducing long-promised legislation to legalize marijuana.

The current law is straightforward. It is illegal to sell marijuana for recreational purposes, but legal to do so for medicinal purposes. Only patients with prescriptions can get the medicinal stuff, and it has to be supplied by a small number of authorized companies that deliver the product by mail or courier.

The companies growing medicinal pot cheered last week’s busts in Toronto, as they worked in their interests. They hope to corner the recreational market when it comes online. But other people want in, too, which explains why close to 100 so-called dispensaries suddenly popped up across Toronto this spring.

Until last week’s raids, there were more barriers to selling a hot dog in Toronto than there were to selling an ounce of marijuana. The owners of the illegal dispensaries argue they are providing a compassionate service by creating an easy source of medicinal marijuana for people with valid prescriptions. But that is a fiction. They are selling a prescription drug, but they aren’t licensed pharmacies. Many will sell to anyone who comes in. They also peddle “edibles” – brownies, cookies, drinks and candies laced with pot that aren’t subject to any manufacturing standards.

Whatever the Liberals imagine the new world will look like post-legalization, it surely won’t involve the unregulated mayhem that cities from Vancouver to Toronto are now contending with. A future law legalizing recreational marijuana will not make it legal for anyone to sell it, anywhere and any time, to anyone they want, no questions asked. Be serious. The dispensary owners should be the first to recognize this.

But it’s also understandable in the current legislative vacuum that they would stake a claim, even an illegal one, since the government has left the future open to interpretation.

The government created the climate that led to the Toronto busts. Everyone is angry, everyone is confused, but so far, Ottawa has washed its hands of the matter.

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