Pubdate: Mon, 15 May 2017
Source: Ottawa Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Jacquie Miller
Pages: 4-5


City department joins fight against illegal marijuana dispensaries

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, said Sraga.

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 low-cost 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-the-way 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 mail-order companies. Legal suppliers aren't allowed to sell
edible products, for instance, or high-potency concentrates.

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 recently.
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