Pubdate: Sat, 08 Apr 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Authors: Betsy Powell & David Rider
Page: GT1


Authorities play whack-a-mole with the city's dispensaries as
legalization looms in Canada

Shut down, Mayor John Tory told marijuana shop owners, or face
"whatever enforcement mechanisms" the city can muster to extinguish
the "wildfire" spread of pot shops across Toronto.

Almost a year and many raids, seizures, arrests and court dates later,
the federal government is poised to clear the legal haze as early as
next week. Police, meanwhile, continue playing whack-a-mole with
storefront pot vendors numbering, at the moment, 52.

Depending on who you talk to, Toronto's law-and-order approach has
been either a qualified success and victory for safe neighbourhoods,
or a hypocritical, costly attack on pot pioneers to enable a corporate
takeover of their lucrative industry.

About all they can agree on is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
setting a framework for legalization, to be implemented and
administered by provincial and territorial governments, will not end
private pot shops in Toronto any time soon.

"It's not that easy for us to effectively shut them down," says Mark
Sraga, the city's director of investigation services.

"Ultimately, we don't have the authority to padlock the doors shut.
We're bound by the legal process . . . and we will get there. But it
takes time."

A Superior Court judge just rejected a city bid to speed up injunction
proceedings to close seven dispensaries of B.C.-based Canna Clinics,
instead setting a date in late September.

Since May, 162 dispensaries opened their doors in Toronto and 110 have
been shut down. A year ago, there were 82 or 83, and the number dipped
as low as 38. Sraga believes the city and police have done a good job
in an "exercise that's been worth it."

Jodie Emery's voice sounds strained. Half of Canada's "first couple of
cannabis," she is in Toronto on bail for trafficking and other
charges, and out of the B.C.-based Cannabis Culture chain she was
trying to build with Marc, her husband who spent five years in a U.S.
jail for selling marijuana seeds.

"This is clearly a corporate government takeover by people who have
profited from prohibition and want to continue profiting by
maintaining the status quo - banning pioneers and literally sweeping
away the people who set up this industry and struggled for it," she

She noted that Trudeau's pot point man is ex-"narc" and former Toronto
police chief Bill Blair, and those involved with government-approved
licensed producers include one of Blair's former deputies, former
politicians and Bay St. investors.

"The dispensaries might continue if they stay low-key, but if you're
willing to take a stand, you will be attacked by the oppressor," Emery

"These raids aren't necessarily meant to convict someone. They're
meant to scare them, intimidate them, bully them out of business . . .
criminalize the competition and clear the way for the profiteers," of
a nondeadly drug widely agreed to be beneficial to many.

Today's odd reefer reality was apparent one recent afternoon on Queen
St. W. near Bathurst St.

Tong-wielding staff gently tugged buds from glass jars for customers
at Eden Medicinal, a boutique with exposed brick wall, potted plants
and electronic background music that reopened almost immediately after
it was raided last year.

About a block away, a sign announced the closure, "with sadness," of
Open Dispensary after a recent raid and four arrests.

"Our stores were able to show the public and politicians alike how
well the dispensary model will work," the sign states. "It is our hope
that when legalization finally comes to Canada, this will be the model
that will be adopted."

After reading the notice, Igor Kolpak, who works in advertising, said
he is impressed with the fact dispensaries have established a retail
model that works, though he'd like to see more quality control. He has
applied for a licence to produce marijuana.

"It shows we can go outside a Shoppers Drug Mart or LCBO-type model,"
he said.

Not so fast. Sraga, from the city, says it is clear tightly controlled
distribution is coming. Illegal sales will disappear, he predicts,
once weed is "readily available" through "provincially controlled

"If that meets the demand of the public, they won't need to go to the
black market," but raids will continue if they do, he says.

While the city prosecutes store owners on bylaw charges, many clerks
charged criminally saw their charges dropped in return for a peace
bond dictating they stay out of trouble - and pot shops - for two
years. Trafficking charges against a handful of shop owners remain.

Alan Young, a law professor and vocal drug-law critic, expects to help
launch a constitutional challenge against those charges. "The
million-dollar question is: What happens to these dispensaries? Will
they actually go away?" he says.

"Legalization, the way the Liberals have unfolded it, is only a
partial legalization, because they've taken the position that if you
don't fit within the program they're going to propose, you fall back
into criminal law."

Young calls that "myopic and wrong."

"There will be a huge sector of the cannabis community which will not
buy into the government's program and will continue to do what they've
done for decades," he said.

"The issue is, are we really wanting to criminalize that conduct
because all we've effectively done with legalization is reduce the
criminal population from a couple of million to a couple of hundred

"And I don't think that's really a celebrated victory for the federal

Vancouver, meanwhile, continues down a different path. It looked to
regulation, rather than raids, licensing pot shops within strict
location criteria - $30,000 for recreational use and $1,000 for
medicinal outlets that also offer therapeutic services such as massage
- - and heavily fining those deemed too close to schools and community

Kerry Jang, a Vancouver city councillor, says: "Using inspection staff
has been much more effective and much, much cheaper than using police

As for the fate of shops that fall outside government legalization
rules, he adds: "There will likely be storefronts, and we still expect
to be able to say how many and regulate where they will go. We simply
have to adjust our bylaws to match the provincial rules."
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