Pubdate: Wed, 28 Sep 2016
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A6


'Dispensaries are becoming more and more prevalent,' Fleury says

Some city councillors have asked Ottawa police to explain what the
force plans to do about the illegal pot shops operating across the

The chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, Coun. Eli El-Chantiry,
tabled an inquiry at Monday 's meeting, saying some councillors and
residents are concerned about the marijuana dispensaries popping up
around town.

About 15 shops have opened, most since June. Coun. Mathieu Fleury says
he and several other councillors want them closed.

"I made it clear I don't think police have addressed the issue, and
they are actually allowing criminal activity to expand and become even
more visible," Fleury says. "These dispensaries are becoming more and
more prevalent on our main streets. They are making storefronts. They
are running illegal operations. What is police services doing to
respond to these community concerns?"

A "strong police response" would force dispensary owners to rethink
their business strategy of "trying to wedge themselves in there, even
for a few months" while the federal government studies what
regulations should be in place for recreational marijuana, Fleury says.

The government has promised to introduce legislation to legalize pot
in the spring.

Fleury first raised the issue with police months ago when two
dispensaries opened in his ward, on Montreal Road. The BIA for the
area was also upset because it had been trying to change the
reputation of Montreal Road by attracting more desirable businesses,
such as coffee shops and boutiques.

Fleury says many customers think the dispensaries are legal. Police
are confounding the confusion by failing to take action as more shops
open, he says.

All of the dispensaries say they cater to medical marijuana patients.
Some require doctor's prescriptions, and the "bud tenders" who work at
them give advice on which types of marijuana work for various medical

The federal government says the dispensaries are illegal and that
their products are obtained from the black market. Medical marijuana
is legal in Canada, but only if obtained from a producer licensed by
Health Canada. Storefront sales are not allowed.

"It's like buying from a dealer on the street, basically, but they
give you a nice storefront feel," says Fleury.

Cities across the country confront the same issue as hundreds of
illegal dispensaries have opened. Police forces have taken varying
approaches, from raiding the shops to allowing them to operate unless
there is evidence of sales to minors, violence or illegal activity.

Ottawa police say they're aware of the dispensaries and are
investigating them. Insp. Michael Laviolette says the police are
having discussions with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada,
which is responsible for prosecuting drug crimes.

There is a range of opinion on Ottawa council. Councillors Shad Qadri,
Riley Brockington and Bob Monette oppose the dispensaries in their
wards. Coun. Jeff Leiper says the dispensary in his Kitchissippi ward
has not been an issue with residents and that it's not his place to
interfere with the day-today operations of police. Catherine McKenney,
councillor for Somerset Ward, which has several dispensaries, has not
returned calls asking for comment, and Mayor Jim Watson has declined
to be interviewed on the subject.

El-Chantiry says he made the inquiry to the police board because
several councillors told him they're concerned about the

Many dispensary owners say they consider themselves to be operating in
a "grey area" because Canadian courts have ruled that patients have
the right to reasonable access to medical marijuana. The spokesman for
Magna Terra Health Services, which runs two dispensaries in Ottawa
says he's willing to risk being charged by police with drug
trafficking because he believes he is helping people.

The Citizen has interviewed dozens of customers shopping at
dispensaries over the past several months. They vary widely, from
medical marijuana patients looking for a product not available from
their Health Canada approved grower to recreational pot users.
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