Pubdate: Mon, 23 Jan 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Emma Reilly
Page: A1


Walking into Pacifico Health and Wellness in Westdale feels much like
walking into a spa: white walls, exposed wood beams, chic lighting,
and calm atmosphere.

Nevermind the fact that it's a medical marijuana dispensary.

Tamara Hirsch seems like an unlikely advocate for a controversial
industry that exists in a legal grey area. The mom of two, who has
blond hair and elfin looks, has opened two successful medical
marijuana dispensaries in Hamilton in the past year - one on James
Street North and the second in Westdale - and says she'd like to open

Her store, which offers everything from traditional marijuana buds to
THC-infused bath bombs and shaving cream, is only one example of a
string of dispensaries that have opened in Hamilton within the past

Hirsch says that her businesses operate under strict standards. To
access products, patrons must be admitted to a locked inner room
beyond the lobby. At the end of the day, merchandise is stored in a
class-6 safe. Patrons must have a doctors' note or medical marijuana
prescription, must answer an eight-page intake form to suss out the
likelihood or risk of addiction, and sign a code of conduct for
responsible use.

However, Hirsch says standards at other dispensaries can be much more

"There are places where if you're 19 or older, you can walk in and
purchase," she said. "It's self-regulated. That's the problem."

That's one of the reasons why the city says it will start to crack
down on dispensaries in Hamilton. After taking a hands-off approach to
the businesses, planning director Jason Thorne sent an update memo to
city councillors last week saying licensing and bylaw officials will
investigate 15 known storefront pot sellers "to determine if there is
any violation of municipal bylaws."

The city's stance on medical marijuana dispensaries has been a
perplexing back-and-forth for the industry and city hall alike.

"I have to admit to being a little bit confused - not distraught, not
upset - nothing other than really being confused," said Coun. Jason
Farr, whose downtown ward includes several dispensaries. "I still kind
of feel like it's like watching the Australian Open during a good
rally. It's just a like a yo-yo."

Thorne said the enforcement was a "matter of fairness," noting other
business owners are complaining about having to pay fees and abide by
regulations while pot dispensaries operate outside regulation. Ken
Leendertse, the city's director of licensing and animal services, says
the decision was spurred on by recent complaints from Business
Improvement Areas.

"Based on these complaints, it was decided that, even though they are
the responsibility of the police, the city needed to examine if there
are any safety concerns or violations under municipal bylaws,"
Leendertse said in an email.

Dispensaries in Hamilton run the gamut from Pacifico's spa-like
atmosphere to a more traditional head-shop feel.

MMJ, a medical marijuana dispensary at George and Queen streets, has a
vastly different atmosphere than Pacifico. Patrons buzz in through a
locked door and enter a room that smells overwhelmingly of pot.
Marijuana is immediately visible behind a glass counter and staff wear
blue medical gloves to dispense their product.

In September, MMJ CEO Clint Younge was charged with possession of
marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and possession of cannabis
resin for the purpose of trafficking.

A spokesperson for MMJ said Younge was not available for

Hirsch, whose background is in the design/build industry, says she was
not a recreational marijuana user and only discovered the world of
medical pot after getting sick. On vacation, she ate a red snapper
that had ingested toxic algae - a neurotoxin that can't be detected or
cooked out of fish.

"I almost died," she said. "I was taking Percocet and Gabapentin, and
someone introduced me to marijuana - and I was amazed to see that it

- - With files from Matthew Van Dongen
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt