Pubdate: Tue, 25 Oct 2016
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A1


Ottawa police have warned the landlords renting space to illegal
marijuana dispensaries that the businesses may face police action and
the properties could even be seized.

Letters have been served on 13 dispensary landlords warning them of
the consequences of allowing unlawful activities on their properties,
said Staff Sgt. Rick Carey of the drug unit. "If your property
continues to represent a threat to the health, safety and security of
the community, the Ottawa Police Service will take action as
authorized by the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances
Act and any other provincial statutes available," the letter says.

Some landlords were shocked by the letters because they thought
dispensaries were legal, said Carey. Other landlords are consulting
their lawyers and checking their leases, he said.

The letter also offers help to landlords, saying they can contact
police for "assistance with respect to strategies which may be
employed by you to reduce/cease the unlawful activity associated with
your property." It also warns of possible referral to Ontario's Civil
Remedies for Illicit Activities Office, which can ask a court to seize
a property that has been used to engage in illegal activity. Richard
Bergman used to investigate people in B.C. for marijuana grow-ops and
possession of pot as a sergeant in the RCMP, but now the retired
officer is fighting the of war on drugs as a civilian and concerned
parent in suburban Ottawa.

He pleaded with Chief Charles Bordeleau at the police services board
meeting Thursday to crack down on illegal marijuana dispensaries,
especially the two that have popped up in his Orleans neighbourhood,
one of which is steps away from a kids' tutoring centre and a martial
arts club.

"What I think we're witnessing today, unfortunately, is an abdication
of the duty of the police to enforce the Criminal Code of Canada as
it's currently written in the books," the former sergeant told the
board, flanked by two other concerned residents.

"Loving and caring parents cry disbelief when they walk their children
to tutoring clinics and taekwondo studios that have a marijuana store
right beside it."

Speaking on behalf of parents who didn't have time to attend the board
meeting Thursday evening, Bergman called the lack of enforcement from
police "a direct assault on our children."

Marijuana remains legal for medicinal purposes and must be sold by
mail from producers licensed by the federal government.

Police across Canada are faced with the challenge of enforcing the
current laws that are poised to change with legalization of marijuana,
as the new federal government has pledged to do. In Toronto, police
have raided several shops over the past few months, only to see some
of them reopen in a devious rebuff to law enforcement.

Cracking down on them, Bordeleau said, is more complicated than just
showing up to the front door with a police badge.

There have been no such raids targeting the 16 known marijuana shops
in Ottawa, but Ottawa's police chief confirmed there are active
investigations into the businesses.

"We have met with federal Crown and they have agreed to prosecute
those, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done in presenting
a case for them to prosecute. That's what we're in the process of
doing on certain facilities. We don't have, at the Ottawa Police
Service, the ability to say you can't open," Bordeleau said.

"We don't have that legal authority." The chief also suggested the
city could mitigate the proliferation of these businesses by
strengthening licensing bylaws.

In the past, the civil forfeiture laws have been used to seize
marijuana grow ops, biker clubhouses and crack dens.

Ottawa police have been investigating the illegal dispensaries since
the first one opened almost a year ago. They have faced pressure from
several city councillors to shut them down. There are now at least 16
in town.

Police across Canada have taken varied approaches to the proliferation
of dispensaries.

In Vancouver, police generally don't interfere with pot shops unless
there is proof they are selling to minors or involved with violence or
organized crime.

In Toronto, police have made sporadic raids against dispensaries since
last spring, laying charges of drug trafficking and profiting from the
proceeds of crime. Across Ontario, police have recently raided
dispensaries in Peel, Whitby, Peterborough, Oshawa, Waterloo, Barrie,
London, Hamilton and Alderville.

Ottawa police have said they are taking a "measured approach" because
of the complicated legal landscape and changing public attitudes toward pot.

The federal government has promised to legalize recreational
marijuana. Medical marijuana is already legal, but only if sold by
mail from producers licensed by Health Canada.

In the meantime, the laws against trafficking or possession of
marijuana remain on the books.

"We as a police agency are being asked to weigh the black-and-white
rule of law to an area that is seeing a shift in societal acceptance,"
said a memo from Deputy Chief Jill Skinner that was sent to a city

"The regulations related to this issue are increasingly difficult to

The memo also says "there is a proven and accepted need for medical
marijuana." The dispensaries say they cater to medical marijuana
patients. The federal government warns they are selling unregulated
products that might be unsafe. There is widespread confusion over what
is legal.

Several landlords said they unwittingly rented their property to the
illegal dispensaries.

The landlord of a CannaGreen dispensary on Roydon Place said he is
trying to get rid of his tenant who moved in last month. The landlord
said he was told by the real estate agent handling the lease that the
property had been rented to a "medical dispensary."

He had no idea marijuana would be sold. The landlord, who doesn't want
to be named, said he's asked police to raid the dispensary. His lawyer
is advising on eviction procedures. The front of that dispensary was
destroyed earlier this month after a truck drove into it. It was
boarded up, but the tenant carved a hole in the plywood and has been
selling cannabis from a makeshift takeout window.

Phap Lu, owner of a building on St. Joseph Boulevard in Orleans, said
he thought the CannaGreen dispensary that rented a storefront there
last month would be selling "medical marijuana to patients like
soldiers after the war."

He didn't realize the store was illegal until he got the police

"I ask the police, 'What should I do now?'" said Lu. "Why are you guys
not shutting it down if it's illegal?

"I don't want any illegal business running in my building," said Lu.
Parents whose children attend the taekwondo studio and Kumon tutoring
service in the same building have complained about the pot shop.

His lease with CannaGreen has a clause prohibiting illegal activities,
said Lu. Still, it would be expensive and difficult to break the
lease, he said.

"It's not easy to just kick people out. It's not fair for either
side." He can't afford an expensive legal battle with the tenant, said
Lu. "For us as business owners, we have to lease the property out, and
we have no proof to say, 'You're illegal'."

He needs the $3,000 a month rent payment to cover the mortgage on the
building, said Lu.

"Why don't the police department do that kind of action? They put the
pressure on the landlord. They have a business to run."

The real estate agent who negotiated the leases for both CannaGreen
dispensaries said she checked with the city and was told the zoning
was appropriate. A city official told her that marijuana sales weren't
regulated yet, but would be in the spring, said Marcy Balouch of the
Sutton Group.

"It can be very confusing," said Balouch.

"If I had known at the beginning it was going to be an illegal
business, I would never have been involved in finding them a space."

The city should do a better job of providing information, and the
police should shut down dispensaries if they are illegal, she said.
"If this business, for some reason they are claiming it's illegal, why
are the police or the government not doing anything?"

Police must investigate each dispensary individually, according to the
memo from Skinner. The deputy chief said it was a "time consuming
process as we want to present the best possible evidence to a court."

One of the considerations in prioritizing those investigations is
whether the dispensary is a concern to the public.

City councillors who receive "legitimate" complaints about
dispensaries should encourage people to phone the police, said the
memo. "By legitimate we are referencing something that goes beyond
personal beliefs about marijuana or beliefs that marijuana should not
be available to anyone at any time."

Police have only received a handful of complaints about the
dispensaries, said Carey.

The letter sent to landlords appears to be an indication that police
might be ready to move against the dispensaries. None of the shops
receiving letters has closed, though.

Franco Vigile, who operates Magna Terra dispensaries on Carling Avenue
and in Stittsville, said his landlords are supportive.

"I can only assume that, as landlords, they understand the positive
effect on the community and they appreciate that."

The landlords for the two Magna Terra dispensaries could not
immediately be reached for comment.
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