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Marc Emery, founder of the Cannabis Culture dispensary chain, in one of his recreational cannabis storefronts in Montreal last December. (Julien Besset/AFP/Getty Images)
Marc Emery, founder of the Cannabis Culture dispensary chain, in one of his recreational cannabis storefronts in Montreal last December. (Julien Besset/AFP/Getty Images)

Globe editorial

Globe editorial: No, retail marijuana is not – yet – legal Add to ...

The arrest in Toronto on Wednesday of Marc Emery, one of North America’s leading pot legalization advocates, may seem draconian to his many supporters. But the law is the law, and those who are alleged to flout it risk arrest, regardless of their reasons for doing so.

No one knows this better than Mr. Emery. A diehard libertarian, he once spent four days in jail for violating Ontario’s Sunday shopping laws. More famously, in 2005 he was arrested and eventually extradited to the United States, where he was sentenced to five years in prison for selling marijuana seeds to American customers.

Now he and his wife, Jodie, face numerous new charges, including trafficking, after their arrest as part of a crackdown by Toronto police on illegal pot sales in pop-up stores that bill themselves as “dispensaries.”

The charges relate to five dispensaries in Toronto operating under the Cannabis Culture brand which is co-owned by the Emerys. There are also Cannabis Culture dispensaries in Ottawa, Hamilton, Peterborough, Ont., Vancouver and Montreal. Police in Montreal raided eight outlets in December and Mr. Emery faces trafficking charges in that city, too.

This latest arrest of the man known as the Prince of Pot brings into sharp focus the slightly surreal situation in which pot retailers and the police now find themselves. It all goes back to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise to legalize marijuana for recreational use. (It is already legal for medicinal purposes.)

Mr. Trudeau promised to table legislation this spring, but some people opportunistically seized on his election in 2015 to immediately exploit a grey zone between the current laws and whatever the Liberals eventually propose. Storefronts have been popping up all over the country, selling pot to anyone, with or without a medical prescription. It’s chaos. But that’s the fault of those ignoring the law as it is, and instead operating according to what they think the law should be.

Just because the Prime Minister has accepted the view that, with proper regulation and oversight, pot can be legalized for recreational users, and just because his government is studying how to change the law, does not mean that it is suddenly legal to sell pot anywhere, to anyone. It isn’t. Nor will it be, once the law is changed.

As the law now stands, many dispensary owners across the country are engaging in what appears to be an illegal activity. And the rule of law is far more important than anyone’s right to cash in on an impending reform.

Pot is humanely available in Canada as a medicine to those who need it, but everyone else has to wait. Those who do not must be prepared to accept the consequences of their actions.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article implied that the Cannabis Culture outlets belong to the Emerys. In fact, the Emerys say that they co-own "the brand."

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