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A shop assistant holds bags of marijuana at "Weeds" a marijuana dispensary in Toronto on Tuesday January 12, 2016. Photo: Chris Young for The Globe and Mail.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Once upon a time, you needed a duly completed doctor's prescription to get hold of medicinal marijuana. Then a few of Canada's pot dispensaries branched into the brave new world of remote video diagnosis. No one should be surprised that some now content themselves with vague complaints of a non-specific ailment – uh, my back hurts – if they bother with the charade at all.

Yes, cannabis is going to be a legal substance soon, perhaps as early as this time next year. But a great many folks appear to have forgotten that it's still very much illegal. Besides which, legalization does not mean the absence of rules – quite the opposite.

Truths do not come much more self-evident than this: We ought not to allow areas of lawlessness in this country to expand unchecked. Yet that is precisely what's happening in the marijuana retail business. It is something close to a free-for-all, and no one seems much interested in stopping it.

Sure, the City of Vancouver cracked down on a bunch of illegal dispensaries a week ago – more than 20 are now shuttered – but a larger number will continue operating because they stumped for a pricey city-issued licence. And while Vancouver was moving in on some of the scofflaws, officials in Victoria were proposing more permissive rules allowing dispensaries to open 200 metres from schools and to stock marijuana "edibles."

It's not just a West Coast thing; pot stores are proliferating everywhere, maybe attempting to create what foreign-policy types call "facts on the ground." Delaying the eventual marijuana legislation – not a bad thing in itself – has consequences, notably the furious jockeying among people vying to sell weed when it's legalized.

It's largely being tolerated by Ottawa and the provinces. But if someone tried to open any other type of unlicensed pseudo-pharmacy, it would be closed down within minutes.

There is unmistakable hypocrisy in the selective enforcement of marijuana prohibition. Some police forces have effectively stopped arresting people for possession; others round them up in hordes. Some cities regulate land use tightly, others don't.

It's a mess. Of course marijuana should be legalized. But legalization isn't the same thing as being given carte blanche to sell anything, anywhere to anyone. Not even close.