Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Page: GT1
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell


When Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders announced details of last 
week's pot shop raids, there were rumblings that Health Canada's 
licensed marijuana producers were behind the mass arrests.

"This is about protecting the corporate profits of stock-market 
businesses who have sent police to arrest people to protect their own 
financial interest," Vancouver-based marijuana activist Jodie Emery 
said, scolding Saunders at his news conference.

Undeniably, some licensed producers who invested tens of millions of 
dollars to become legitimate players in the medical marijuana market 
were unhappy that politicians of all levels had done nothing to stop 
the proliferation of unlicensed dispensaries in Vancouver and Toronto.

The licensed producers, or LPs as they're known in the pot world, are 
also competitors of the pot shop entrepreneurs.

Both are hoping for a piece of post-legalization action once the 
federal government makes good on its election promise.

But the notion the LPs were behind the raids in Toronto is more 
conspiracy theory than reality, said Bruce Linton, chair and chief 
executive officer of Canopy Growth. They are one of 18 federally 
authorized, mail-order medical marijuana suppliers in Ontario.

"We have no capacity to cause anybody to shut anything down; in fact, 
I don't even think we've been particularly vocal," Linton said. "I've 
had a number of calls about the conspiracy (theory). I do not have such power."

Neil Closner, CEO of MedReleaf, an LP with a 55,000-square-foot 
facility in Markham, admits he wasn't disappointed that police and 
city bylaw officers took action, "but we were not directly involved 
in making that happen."

He played down the fact the Toronto Lobbyist Registry shows that 
MedReleaf Corp. has retained the services of a consultant with 
CCSGroup for the period of May 12, 2016, to April 12, 2017.

While CCSGroup is representing the company's interests in Ottawa, 
Closner said he was unaware the company had registered with the city 
and said the company has had no direct or indirect contact with the 
mayor or councillors' offices.

"I could easily make the case that the only reason they got shut down 
was because they opened too many too quickly," said Closner, a former 
vice-president of business development at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"If they had been more reserved in their push, more pragmatic, where 
they were locating, and self-policed a little bit better, they would 
probably all still be around."

Another person not displeased by the crackdown was Ronan Levy, 
co-founder of Canadian Cannabis Clinics, which has 12 outlets in 
Ontario staffed with physicians who prescribe marijuana to patients.

About a year ago, Levy met with Kevin Moraes, a special assistant in 
Mayor John Tory's office, to warn about the green wave hurtling toward Toronto.

There was no further contact after that, and Levy was dumbstruck when 
his prediction came to pass and Tory, city council and Toronto police 
for months did nothing to intervene.

"It kind of felt like we were the taxi drivers in the Uber debate. We 
were doing the right thing, complying with the law, working with 
Health Canada," said Levy, who is a lawyer.

"Then you see the dispensaries open up. They were doing brisk 
business; they would see more people in an hour than we would see in 
an entire day."

Mark Sraga, director of investigations services with the city's 
licensing division, says he's also heard the rumour that LPs were a 
driving force behind the raids.

"All I can say, I know that's not the case from my perspective," he 
said, adding that not one communicated with him.

What prodded the city and police into action was residents and 
councillors starting to complain about the concentration of pot shops 
in some parts of the city, particularly Kensington Market and along 
the Danforth, Sraga said.

Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young, who has worked extensively in 
the area of cannabis law reform, believes that, rather than "a 
movement by the LPs," the raids were more about "optics."

The Canadian way is not to celebrate the progressive steps we take, 
such as moving toward pot legalization, but to keep things as low-key 
as possible, he said.

"I think what happened in Toronto was the exact opposite of low-key 
and discreet.

"I think city officials felt that they lost control, and they (pot 
shops) would continue to grow," while Ottawa studies how to regulate 
and legalize marijuana, Young said.

"While waiting, they didn't want all those pot signs all over the 
city. They prefer parking signs."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom