Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A1


Latest attack uses zoning bylaws in bid to snuff out marijuana

Ottawa's bylaw enforcement officers have jumped into the battle
against the city's marijuana dispensaries.

The landlords of the Ottawa Cannabis Dispensary on Laperriere Avenue
have been charged with violating city zoning bylaws. The cannabis shop
is in a small house painted green, next to an auto body shop and a
chip truck. It's an industrial zone that does not permit retail shops.

The charge is a test case that will help city zoning officials decide
whether to take action against other dispensaries.

"We need to make sure if we are going to charge (dispensaries), we
have to make sure it sticks," said David Wise, a program manager for
zoning interpretation. "We have this court case going through. We want
to know how the courts react to it, the arguments back and forth."

The dispensaries also sell drugs illegally, of course, but that
problem has largely been left to the police. They've raided 14
dispensaries since last November and charged employees with drug
trafficking. Eight of the shops simply reopened, though, and new ones
popped up.

But municipal officials have proceeded cautiously, saying it's

Ottawa licenses everything from strip joints to food carts, but the
city does not want to create a category for dispensaries for fear of
legitimizing the illegal shops. As far as zoning goes, officials say
the dispensaries are primarily a criminal, not a land-use problem.

Bylaw officers don't investigate crimes, and the planning department
has no authority to regulate illegal activity, according to a memo
from city staff sent in response to a question from Coun. Mathieu
Fleury, who is concerned that Montreal Road is turning into pot-shop

"An example is a store which may sell stolen property - it may be
zoned to permit a retail use, but the product being sold is not a
land-use issue under the Planning Act. This responsibility rests with
policing agencies and/or federal agencies." Ottawa is watching the
opposite approaches taken by two other major Canadian cities wrestling
with a proliferation of dispensaries. Vancouver has regulated the
illegal shops, requiring business licences and setting out where they
can be located and how they operate.

Toronto bylaw officers, on the other hand, have worked in partnership
with police to shut down dispensaries, creating a double whammy of
criminal drug charges and municipal zoning and licensing charges.

The City of Toronto has laid 455 charges against employees, dispensary
owners and managers, and landlords, says Mark Sraga, director of
Investigation Services for the city's Municipal Licensing & Standards.
Most of the charges are still before the courts, but the 33
convictions so far have resulted in fines totalling $54,700, probation
orders and store closure orders. The city is also using a "big hammer"
by seeking a court injunction against a chain of Canna Clinic
dispensaries that continue to operate despite the municipal and
criminal charges against them, Sraga said.

The wording of Toronto's bylaws might make prosecution easier.
Toronto, for example, licenses shops that sell packaged food, allowing
officials to charge dispensaries selling edible cannabis-laced
products like cookies. In Ottawa, food licensing only applies to
establishments that prepare food on site.

Ottawa officials are studying whether dispensaries are breaking any
bylaws. Last year, a zoning violation notice was issued to Magna Terra
Health Services on Iber Road in Stittsville, which is in an industrial
zone. Operator Franco Vigile planned to fight it by arguing that he
was operating a medical clinic, not a retail store. But Magna Terra
closed in March after a police raid.

Now the test case is the little green shop on Laperriere, owned by
Sukhwinder and Sukhdev Kaur Singh.

A court date for the zoning violation charge has been set for June

One of the Singhs' sons, Deep, works in the dispensary and the other,
Bikram, works in the family auto-body shop next door. Deep says the
dispensary provides lowcost cannabis to friends and family members who
need it for medical reasons.

The councillor for the ward, Riley Brockington, says he supports
medical marijuana, but not illegal shops. He was upset when the
dispensary opened last summer, across the street from a Montessori
school, with no notice to his office or nearby residents.

The city is also investigating two other dispensaries located in
industrial zones, and others may be under the microscope as well,
although Wise declined to give details. "We have a number of cases
that are under investigation."

The operator of a dispensary in an industrial park on Canotek Road in
the east end said he deliberately chose an out-of-theway location that
was not close to schools, community centres and pedestrian traffic.

Charlie Cloutier said he wasn't aware of any zoning violation. "This
is news to me."

This marijuana dispensary is tucked into an industrial park on Antares
Drive. Another medical dispensary in an industrial park on Antares
Drive does not have an overhead sign, just coverings on the windows
saying "OMD."

Landlord Tim Kimber is a medical-marijuana user himself. He said he
offered to rent space to the dispensary because it helps patients who
can't obtain the medical marijuana they want from the Health
Canada-licensed mailorder companies. Legal suppliers aren't allowed to
sell edible products, for instance, or high-potency

OMD is a good, quiet tenant, Kimber said, and he hasn't received any
complaints from neighbouring businesses.

"There are no schools around it. It's not a mainstream retail. It's
not in anybody's face."

Two customers interviewed outside OMD said they prefer the industrial
park location, which is discreet. "Out of sight, out of mind," said a
63-year-old man who was buying dried bud to help his back pain. His
son, 33, who buys cannabis candy for back and knee pain, said the
location is better than one on a major shopping strip because it's
less likely children will be around.

The Herbal Leaf marijuana dispensary on Bank Street opened


Most of the city's 15 dispensaries are tucked alongside stores,
restaurants and other businesses on major streets such as Bank and
Rideau streets, Montreal Road and Preston Street.

Coun. Catherine McKenney, who has four dispensaries in her downtown
ward, says most of the complaints she's received are not about what's
being sold, but rather the problems caused by customers parking
illegally to shop.

She's asked bylaw officers numerous times to respond to complaints
about illegal parking near the Green Tree dispensary on Preston
Street. The hair salon owner next door says dispensary customers park
in his driveway while they run into the pot shop. Green Tree was
raided by police in November, but reopened.

McKenney said she advises constituents who are upset about
dispensaries to call police.

"I have some sympathy for police, who say, 'We can close them down,
but they just reopen, and is this the best way to deploy our
resources?' " said McKenney.

One of the newest dispensaries, Herbal Leaf, opened recently on Bank
Street near Glashan intermediate school.

Parent Stephanie ter Veen said she's concerned because the shop is
around the corner from the school on Arlington Avenue. (According to
Google Maps, it's 210 metres from the school to the shop.)

Students roam the neighbourhood during lunch hour, and it won't be
long before they discover Herbal Leaf, ter Veen said.

Her daughter is in Grade 8, and knows of several students her age who
smoke pot, she said.

"I trust my daughter, but I feel anxious having a drug shop next to
the school.

"I'm not sure the type of people who are selling the stuff. Are they
normal people, or criminals?"

Inside the store, which has tinted windows that prevent anyone from
seeing inside, there is a large space painted bright white with green
trim. A small room with a door at the back contains cases of dried
weed and cannabis-laced cookies, marshmallow treats, candy, tea, and
vape pens loaded with cannabis oil.

During a recent visit, a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke filled the
store, and one of the three young clerks on duty quickly stubbed out
what he had been smoking.

The clerks said they only sell to customers 19 and

One of them said he arrived one morning to find several youngsters
waiting outside the store, but he shooed them away.
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