Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Smoke the law

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The City of Winnipeg has been licensing so-called head shops for years, despite the fact that it's been a criminal offence to sell drug paraphernalia since 1988. Even now, after Winnipeg police charged one store owner and threatened others, the city is only considering tougher regulatory control to keep head shops away from schools.

The city has taken the right approach to an industry that some people consider a bad influence on children. Police, however, have decided to follow the letter of the law, even though it is inconsistent with the changing values of society.

Head shops sell items that can be used to smoke marijuana, such as pipes, bongs and roach clips, which were once regarded as harmless objects until police forces lobbied Ottawa to outlaw them on the grounds they glorified marijuana.

There are many ridiculous laws on the books (such as Sec. 163 of the Criminal Code, which makes it illegal to own or distribute a "crime comic book"), but police don't enforce them just because they are technically illegal.

City police said the recent arrest was the result of numerous complaints. It seems odd that these shops are only now generating complaints, but the correct way to handle them is through regulation, much the way porn-video stores were managed in the past.

Meanwhile, Ottawa should repeal its outdated law and hand the problem to municipalities, which can regulate them according to community values and ordinary land-use principles.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 A14

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