Huge lineups as cannabis chain stores open for business in Montreal
Pot enthusiasts lined up around the block in the cold temperatures right until closing time at several newly opened marijuana shops in Montreal Thursday.
Police did not intervene as the pot activists behind a dozen marijuana-selling stores in B.C. and Ontario opened eight locations in Montreal on Thursday, even if they weren't quite ready for business.
Marc and Jodie Emery urged police not to raid their illegal stores since the federal government was giving every indication laws regarding marijuana would be changed.
"If it's wrong to arrest people two years from now, it is wrong to arrest them today," said Jodie.
The couple spent 45 minutes delivering a two-pronged justification for their actions, explaining how they are activists that have changed Canada by challenging laws in court.
But they are also business people and they explained how they collect money from their franchisees, and want to make sure they can continue to earn money once the federal government legalizes marijuana.
"This is the new era of freedom in Quebec and Canada," said Marc.
Their pleas for leniency are being ignored.
Mayor Denis Coderre said he has "zero tolerance" for the stores selling illegal drugs, and has the support of many city councillors and borough mayors, including Luc Ferrandez, borough mayor of the Plateau Mont Royal and former interim leader of the opposition at city hall.
Montreal police warned that they will intervene in the coming hours or days.
Coderre also warned that Montreal will use every administrative tool at its disposal to shut down the stores, and appears to have already done so.
People going to the Queen Mary location Thursday discovered a sign on the window from the city of Montreal ordering the establishment to cease its operations immediately.
Long history of activism
Marc Emery has been involved in the marijuana industry for decades, selling smoking paraphernalia and accessories, marijuana magazines, and seeds. He's been arrested dozens of times and spent years in a U.S. prison.
His latest venture is the Cannabis Culture franchise, a series of storefronts that expanded to Montreal on Thursday, and the Emerys hope to continue to expand across the country.
On Thursday morning Marc said that there is no good reason for marijuana to be banned.
"Marijuana prohibition has never been legitimate," said Marc. "Anyone who enforces this outdated, this despicable law, is a despicable person."
Jodie said what she and her husband, their employees, and their investors are doing is trying to change the image of marijuana smokers.
"As activists our purpose and our goal is to be treated as normal citizens," said Jodie.
She praised investors who "are willing to work with us because we are going to demonstrate what normalization looks like."
Jodie admitted jumping the gun by opening stores now, but said with a federal task force this week recommending the legalization of marijuana, there was no reason to wait.
"Legalization is only coming about because people pushed and broke the law," said Jodie.
No kids allowed
The eight locations in Montreal, soon to be ten, are scattered throughout the city.
They will sell pot to anyone aged 19 and older, an age that was determined by looking at restrictions on alcohol.
"We chose the age of 19 because it was mostly in line with alcohol in most provinces," said Jodie, adding that may be lowered because of the recommendations by the federal task force.
"We do not allow children in this store. We do not recommend giving cannabis to children," she said, while in the next breath pointing out that there are children using medical marijuana.
The Emerys also frequently attacked other items that are legally sold in Canada.
"Every other store on this block sells toxic killers. Salt. Sugar. Fat. It'll kill you," said Marc. "We are competent adults. We know what we are putting in our bodies."
The couple also demonized alcohol, prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry and medical professionals.
"It is the doctors of this country who are responsible for the fentanyl opioid crisis," said Jodie.
The Emerys hope that opening and running marijuana stores will prevent private industry from being squeezed out by government.
The recommendations laid out by a federal task force this week cover everything from growing, distribution, advertising, and branding.
But while the task force recommends government regulation, it did not say whether sales should be handled by private industry or by local governments.
The Emerys said that those who pushed to change marijuana laws should not be left out of the profits that will come when marijuana is legalized.
As for their franchises, they said most of the stores that opened in Montreal on Thursday were independently owned. The investors, however, wished to remain anonymous.
"We require six per cent of the gross sales. We require decals on stores, lawyers, and minimum quality controls," said Marc, saying his goal was to make sure that employees and customers were protected.
Despite the hype, the stores opening Thursday were not quite ready for business, lacking counters, scales, and a secure way to store money.
That didn't stop customers, who were lined up down the block, from getting their hands on marijuana.
Once their news conference ended, Marc handed out samples of pot to everyone who asked.