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Canada's legal marijuana rollout provides examples of lessons, challenges for Ohio

Posted at 6:44 PM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 07:18:04-04

On the streets of Windsor, Ontario, there are no long lines outsides dispensaries or shops about to sell out of a limited marijuana supply. 

It's because legal marijuana is only available in Canada's most populated province through the mail.

"I thought that was a big mistake," said Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge Co-Owner Jon Liedtke. 

Higher Limits gives people a safe place to consume marijuana where they won't have trouble with landlord-tenant rules, or out in the open. Until Wednesday, only medical marijuana patients were allowed to smoke there.

"And that's how we medicate," said veteran Michael Beno after taking a long pull from a bong.

Beno calls himself one of the regulars because he comes around four times a week to treat chronic pain and depression. 

"I was on painkillers and opioids for four or five years," said Beno.

Beno said his medical marijuana prescription treats the pain just as well with far fewer side effects. He said making recreational marijuana available through the mail first might keep the long lines outside dispensaries away, but it doesn't tamp down the need for demand.

"It's selling so fast so we need stores, outlets and online services," said Beno.

Ohio's potential rollout lesson

The Ohio Department of Commerce is responsible for licensing dispensaries for the state's medical marijuana rollout once it's ready in the next few weeks or months. The Department tells News 5 it's anticipating the first medical marijuana supply to be limited and for whatever is available to sell out very fast. 

Higher Limits is in Ontario, which is allowing only mail order recreational marijuana until April. Liedtke said long lines and sold out dispensaries will be impossible to avoid, even in Canada.

"The lineups are going to be the same," said Liedtke. "They're just going to be on April 1 [when dispensaries will be allowed to open in Ontario.]"

Law enforcement challenges

After Canadians have consumed their legal recreational marijuana, Windsor Police Spokesperson Sergeant Steve Betteridge said law enforcement is on the lookout for impaired drivers.

"Our enforcement will be targeted towards road safety," said Sgt. Betteridge.

The only difference in Canada's laws now is that an adult can't be charged for carrying less than 30 grams of marijuana. Impaired driving is still illegal in Canada.

"The question mark now is how much that may or may not increase," said Sgt. Betteridge.

One big problem for law enforcement is that neither Canada nor the United States has a widely accepted way to quickly figure out how much marijuana is in a driver's system. A breathalyzer can give a good idea for how much alcohol a driver has consumed, but there's no equivalent for marijuana consumption.

Sgt. Betteridge tells News 5 until a similar device is created for marijuana, charges will have to be based on what an officer perceives the impact to be on a driver's ability to operate their vehicle.

Nothing changes along the U.S.-Canadian Border

Despite changes to state law in certain parts of the United States, federal law still considers all types of marijuana illegal, regardless of its intended use. The Department of Justice hasn't gone after people or businesses with marijuana in states that have passed recreational or medical use laws, but that doesn't mean anything at the border between the United States and Canada.

"Crossing the border or arriving at the U.S. Port of Entry in violation of this law may result in denied admission, seizure, fines, and apprehension," said Customs and Border Protection Assistant Director of Border Security Rick Roberts.