For months, folks across Canada have been celebrating the country’s historic legalization of cannabis. And in Ontario, it was only a few weeks ago that brick-and-mortar cannabis sales came online. But is Canada’s massive legal industry accessible to everyone? A human rights complaint launched by 57-year-old Toronto man Ken Harrower says no. Harrower, who is wheelchair-confined and living below the poverty line, says legal weed is off-limits for people like him, people who have disabilities or have low income.
Ontario’s Retail Weed Program Violates Human Rights, Complaint Claims
Toronto resident Ken Harrower can’t smoke cannabis. He can’t vape it, either. Instead, he eats gluten-free cannabis-infused edibles or chews on the raw flower to obtain the cannabinoids he needs. Harrower has a joint disorder called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and a chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder—hence no inhaling weed. He also deals with celiac disease, and treats all three conditions with medical cannabis.
The problem, however, is that gluten-free cannabis-infused edibles aren’t available on Canada’s legal market. Edibles of any kind are still off limits to the retail sector. But even medical dispensaries can’t carry the edibles Harrower needs.
Harrower doesn’t have reliable access to the internet. So ordering medical cannabis products in Canada, which are only online, poses challenges. Harrower would prefer to buy in person, in a store. But so far, Toronto’s two licensed, private retail shops, the Honey Pot and Ameri, have turned him away.
Both stores are a considerable distance from Harrower’s home. And neither provide accessibility accommodations for people in wheelchairs.
The same is true the Ontario Cannabis Store, which handles online orders and the province-run storefronts. Harrower, who lives on government assistance, says OCS products are just too expensive. Furthermore, they don’t supply the products Harrower needs. And who wants to chew on the raw flower? OCS stores also close down on holidays, making it impossible for Harrower to fulfill urgent medical needs.
Is Expensive Legal Weed Forcing Low-Income Consumers onto “Black Market”?
As Ontario’s retail cannabis industry comes fully online, provincial authorities are aggressively pursuing Toronto’s long-standing network of unlicensed “pharmacies”. And that’s exactly what worries Harrower.
Living on a fixed income and panhandling for spare change, Harrower can only order a small amount of cannabis at a time. But to buy online, you need to use a credit card, which Harrower doesn’t have. On top of that, OCS charges a $5 shipping fee. If Harrower orders an $8 gram, that fee almost doubles his order cost.
So for Harrower, it’s just cheaper and more accessible to buy from an unlicensed seller. Not like he has much of a choice. But with the hammer dropping on unlicensed, so-called “black market” retailers, Harrower worries he’ll get caught up in a bust.
With nowhere to turn, Harrower has taken his predicament to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which subsequently launched a human rights complaint against the Attorney General of Ontario, the Office of the Premier of Ontario and the Toronto Police Service.
In a press release, cannabis attorney Jack Lloyd said: “the current recreational and medical cannabis models do not provide many individuals like Mr. Harrower with sufficient access to their medicine.”
“Criminalizing people like Ken, or the compassionate people who supply him with his medical cannabis at a time when no functional access exists, is an insult to his dignity as a human being,” Lloyd said in the release.