Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee (ML&S) has again deferred the conversation around regulating dispensaries. Their expected report on creating regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries has been pushed back for a third time this year, this time indefinitely.
Although they say they will continue to enforce existing federal law, they are continuing to wait for both federal as well as provincial guidance on how, if at all, to regulate retail medical marijuana stores. The city has been using an existing bylaw created to regulate the location of licensed producers under Health Canada’s then MMPR (now ACMPR). The city's police have also been actively raiding numerous dispensaries since earlier this year.
When the Toronto Municipal Licensing & Standards Committee met last May at the behest of Toronto Mayor John Tory to discuss medical marijuana dispensaries and possible regulations within city limits, the committee deferred until June to allow time to research the matter.
At that June meeting, the issue was deferred again, “until provincial and federal legislation has been passed on medical marijuana dispensaries and the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards can report on the matter.”
It was then placed on the schedule for the ML&S Committee meeting scheduled for Oct 25, but it has now been removed from the agenda for that date as well, and there is no given date now for the city to address the issue of licensing dispensaries in the city.
In an official response, the ML&S said they are still waiting on rules for medical marijuana dispensaries.
"The Licensing and Standards Committee deferred consideration of the item until provincial and federal legislation has been passed on medical marijuana dispensaries and the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards can report on the matter. To date we do not have any further information as to when the committee may discuss this item."
However, in June the staff report mentioned they were deferring until Oct 25 in anticipation of an expected August court ruling (Allard), which they 'anticipated' would give clarity on the legality of dispensaries.
The staff report refers to Allard: “The City anticipates that the federal government will revise or replace the MMPR by August 24, 2016.”
“In anticipation of the changes to the MMPR, it is recommended that Municipal Licensing and Standards (ML&S) report to Licensing and Standards Committee on October 25, 2016 with an updated review of the legislative landscape pending the revised federal regulation concerning medical marihuana, updated research into the outcomes of municipal regulations enacted in other jurisdictions, and an analysis of appropriate regulatory options, if any.”
When Health Canada did issue those new rules in August, they once again confirmed that dispensaries are not legal:
“Storefronts selling marijuana, commonly known as "dispensaries" and "compassion clubs," are not authorized to sell cannabis for medical or any other purposes. These operations are illegally supplied, and provide products that are unregulated and may be unsafe. Illegal storefront distribution and sale of cannabis in Canada are subject to law enforcement action” - Health Canada.
In an interview earlier this year with ML&S Vice Chair and city councillor Jim Karygiannis, he stated he believed the Allard case was about ruling on dispensaries.
“There was a decision made in federal court in BC that gave the federal government six months to come up with rules and regulations to deal with dispensaries’” said Karygiannis. “This was a Charter challenge and the judge came down on the side of the dispensaries and said that although there is a grey area, the federal government has to come to the table and bring legislation.”
That is, of course, not what the judge said in the Allard case. While Judge Phelan referenced dispensaries in his ruling (going as far as saying they are at the heart of access to medical cannabis), he very explicitly did not make any ruling in regard to the legality or regulation of dispensaries. The Allard case was based around the removal of personal production rights with the repeal of the MMAR and the implementation of the MMPR in early 2014, not the legality of dispensaries.
In an interview with the councillor earlier this year, the Vice Chair said the issue is about patient access and an "exorbitant" legal access program.
“These dispensaries have opened up to dispense medical marijuana to people who have medical licenses. In the meantime, if you have the medical use of marijuana, and these dispensaries are there to ONLY do that, then they are selling to people who have licenses."
“If you have a license, you've got two choices: One, to get mailed by the big dirty 13 or 14 or what it is right now at an exorbitant cost. Or you can go to these dispensaries and get your product. What it comes down to is, we shut down the small, individual dispensaries — because they were producing and giving stuff to people at a lower price — in order to support the big dirty 14 or whatever it is.”
The vice chair has also said he believes enforcement against dispensaries is a waste of the city and court’s time and that “all these cases will be thrown out of court”, in regard to dispensary arrests via the city’s long-lasting Project Claudia. The city released an announcement last week stating that six guilty pleas have been accepted so far against employees and owners, and that further action against property owners is possible.
City bylaw officers began visiting dispensaries last May, warning property owners of future legal action for housing an illegal dispensary. Owners and landlords of at least some dispensaries were 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.
It’s unclear now what the city’s approach will be to satisfy the request Mayor John Tory originally asked the city to look into. It would appear, like other municipalities, they are more interested in regulating dispensaries for recreational sales than medical.
With notes from Breanna Roycrofft