Bylaw officers in Toronto have begun visiting dispensaries and are reportedly giving the business' landlords warning of future enforcement action. The city reports they commenced to deliver letters to 20 property owners of the addresses where the business are located.
The letter is to advise them that the establishment's operation constitutes a contravention of the zoning bylaw. The letter advises that they may face charges if the operation continues.
Owners and landlords of at least some dispensaries have been given a notice giving them 72 hours to comply with existing city bylaw (438-86) or face fines of up to no more than $25,000, with subsequent fines of no more than $10,000 per day. Subsequent convictions of bylaw non-compliance can face fines of up to $50,000. The letter notes marijuana distribution is not covered under applicable Toronto zoning bylaws.
Toronto Zoning Bylaw 438-86 applies to residential zoning. Toronto adopted a change to zoning regulations in 2014 in respect to federally-regulated Medical Marihuana Production Regulations (MMPR) facilities. The zoning changes include permitting such as use only in specific industrial zones within the city.
One such letter notes:
"Among other things the city's zoning bylaws regulate where medical marijuana production facilities may be located. As set out in the relevant zoning bylaws, a medical marijuana production facility includes premises used for distribution of medical marijuana or cannabis authorized by a license issued by the federal Minster of Health. Currently, no marijuana other than medical marijuana or cannabis authorized by a license issued by the federal Minister of health may be legally distributed in Ontario."
"Section 67 of the Planning Act provides that every person who contravenes a bylaw passed under Section 34 of the Planning Act, and, if the person is a corporation, every director or officer of the corporation who knowingly concurs in the contravention is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to significant fines, up to $50,000".
Businesses who received the letter are encouraged to contact the city on the matter.
Danielle (last name not given), the owner of Calyx Wellness Centre at 1606 Queen St. W says she was visited by an officer today who provided little comment beyond the information presented in their warning letter. She says she understands the city's need to bring some order to the situation of dispensary proliferation, but feels the city's approach could have been better communicated to owners like herself.
"I feel right now the city has a duty to the public to go after all the dispensaries because so many have popped out of nowhere and they're feeling like they can't control it. I'm definitely not happy with the fact that they're using a zoning bylaw to come after us, and I think they should have come in and done some proper investigating, discussed with us, rather than this scare tactic approach. "
Danielle opened Calyx in October of 2015 to help provide better access for medical patients in need, and says it's an issue the city needs to address to distinguish between those providing medical access and those looking to simply sell recreationally. She said she plans to discuss the matter with her legal counsel and see if the city's requests are legal.
Mark Sraga, Director, Investigations, Municipal Licensing and Standards:
"There has been a recent proliferation of storefront Medical Marihuana Dispensaries throughout the City. The sale and distribution of marihuana in this manner is not permitted under the federal regulations governing medical Marihuana. These storefronts are also operating in contravention of the City's Zoning By-laws. The City's Municipal Licensing & Standards Division is liaising with other enforcement agencies, including Toronto Police Service as well as other City divisions, to undertake all appropriate enforcement efforts." (full letter posted below)
Toronto's Mayor, John Tory announced that he will be directing a review of current marijuana dispensaries in the city of Toronto at a Licensing and Standards Committee meeting tomorrow, May 19. the meeting starts at 9:30 am. Tory asks that the issue be investigated and presented again in June.
Tory also said he will ask that the city begin looking at enforcing safety and public health concerns.
"In the meantime I would ask that you employ, in conjunction with the Toronto Police Service, whatever enforcement mechanisms are currently available to you, to address the health and safety concerns of neighbours and business in the communities where these marijuana dispensaries are currently operating unlawfully," wrote Tory.
Toronto Public Health released a statement today noting a report will be presented to the Toronto Board of Health at its May 30 meeting to address a public health approach to regulation of non-medical use of cannabis.
"Designing a regulatory approach for non-medical cannabis is complex," said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health. "We are therefore urging the federal government to use an evidence-based public health approach that builds on the lessons learned from regulating tobacco and alcohol. This approach will help reduce potential health harms for the population as a whole."
The statement notes that while cannabis has therapeutic benefits, it also has many known harms that will need to be addressed, like intoxicated driving, respiratory health, impacts on public health, and concerns with adolescent brain development.
The public announcement concluded: "The approach to regulating non-medical cannabis that is being proposed to the Toronto Board of Health includes providing strong government regulatory control on availability and accessibility, setting a minimum purchase age, minimizing promotion, ensuring strong impaired driving policies, and restricting use in public places."
One industry organization, the Cannabis Friendly Business Association (CBFA) held an emergency meeting last night to address the community's concerns. There are more than 100 dispensaries currently operating in Toronto, up from fewer than 10 less than a year ago. The proliferation of Toronto dispensaries increased exponentially after the election of a Liberal majority in last year's election.
The Liberals ran on a platform of legalizing marijuana in order to legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana. Numerous public officials have commented publicly that cities need more direction from the Federal government on how to deal with dispensaries seeking to gain a foothold in what is expected to be a legal non-medical market.
Dispensaries are not legal in Canada, but operate in a 'grey area' created by repeated court affirmation of authorized medical patients' rights to access cannabis for medical purposes. The only legal access system is Canada's Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) which only provide distribution through a mail order system.
Several other Canadian cities, like Victoria and Vancouver have implemented or begun to implement regulatory schemes for dispensaries. Vancouver recently issued their first business license to a marijuana dispensary.
Another letter mailed to some dispensaries from Toronto Police Services posted on the CFBA's social media accounts:
More from Lift on this issue as it unfolds...