Pubdate: Sun, 29 May 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Page: A10


Chief Mark Saunders took a lot of heat from cannabis advocates while
answering questions about police raids this past week on 43 marijuana
"dispensaries" that have opened up across the city in recent months.

But he shouldn't have. The police, along with zoning and bylaw
enforcement officers, took the right action when they arrested 90
people and laid 186 charges on Thursday. They had, as Saunders noted,
taken a "measured approach" to the situation, sending out notices on
May 18 warning landlords that the pot shops were illegal and giving
them time to shut them down or potentially face stiff fines for
contravening zoning bylaws.

While Mayor John Tory didn't order the raids, he had rightly called
the fast proliferation of the shops alarming: "We cannot just have the
Wild West when it comes to dispensaries cropping up on every street

But that's what seems to be occurring with an estimated 100 Toronto
pot shops selling everything from dried cannabis to hash, pills and
marijuana-infused edibles such as chocolate, cookies, candies and sodas.

The sale of the chocolate and other goodies is particularly alarming
since half of all the pot shops the police served notice on earlier
this month were within 300 metres of schools.

There are also questions about possible involvement of organized
crime. In Vancouver, police say they have "valid information" that
crime gangs have been connected with some pot shops there. In Toronto,
police say only that they are investigating the possibility. At the
same time, Saunders said police don't know where the money from the
shops is going or where the product is coming from. That alone is
unsettling, despite assurances from those who run the shops that there
is no link to crime.

There are also health concerns associated with the products sold in
the illegal stores. As the chief warned, no one knows how much THC,
the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, is in any of these products,
or, indeed, what is in them at all.

Pot shops have been popping up across the country, most notably in
Vancouver and Toronto, since a Federal Court judge in British Columbia
struck down restrictions in February on medical marijuana users
growing their own plants.

At that time, he gave the federal government six months to pass new
rules on medical marijuana. Amid the legal uncertainty that followed,
dispensaries have spread like wildfire, with nine in Kensington Market
alone, and Toronto city Councillor Paula Fletcher expressing concern
that a half-dozen dispensaries were operating around a single subway
station in her Riverdale ward.

So it's no surprise that police acted on public complaints and
petitions about the proliferation of the shops.

While the Star supports Ottawa's intention to legalize marijuana for
recreational use, the dispensaries cannot continue to operate outside
current law. Although medical marijuana is legal, it is supposed to be
available only with a prescription from a medical doctor. Even then,
it must be obtained from one of 31 producers licensed by Canada via
registered mail - not through storefront shops.

Until marijuana is legalized for recreational use and its sale is
regulated, Toronto should enforce the law governing illegal

Or, it could enact more robust regulations on where pot shops can be
located, as Vancouver did last year. New city bylaws there now prevent
dispensaries from locating within 300 metres of any schools, community
centres or other dispensaries, and imposes a $30,000 licensing fee on
each shop. That curbs their concentration in any one neighbourhood and
vastly reduces the number of shops.

Mayor Tory has asked city staff to study that kind of approach. But
until the rules change, police should be supported, not condemned, for
their efforts to curb the proliferation of illegal pot shops.
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