Pubdate: Tue, 16 May 2017
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers
Page: A1


Back in business after police raids, illegal marijuana dispensaries
now in London bylaw enforcers' sights

London appears to be taking a page from Toronto's playbook in its bid
to crack down on illegal pot shops that refuse to die.

Police raided five marijuana dispensaries across London two months
ago, only to watch four of them reopen, including one that reorganized
as a delivery-only service.

Now, the city's bylaw office is setting its sights on the illegal
businesses, a strategy that's proven successful in Canada's largest
city, but one critics say is doomed to push the operations further

"We have active enforcement files on all the dispensaries that were
addressed in the joint investigation," London bylaw boss Orest Katolyk
said, referring to the five dispensaries police raided March 2.

City officials in Toronto, where illegal pot shops once numbered
around 150, have targeted landlords renting spaces to dispensaries,
warning the property owners they could face hefty fines for violating
zoning bylaws.

That approach, combined with repeated police raids, has reduced the
number of pot shops to fewer than 50.

"We are very much aware of what Toronto and other jurisdictions are
doing in regard to marijuana dispensaries," Katolyk said.

Though bylaw officials were involved in the March 2 raids, Katolyk
said at the time his office wasn't going after dispensary landlords.

Katolyk was tight-lipped when asked what consequences the bylaw
investigation could have.

"It means that we have active files and potential charges may be laid
where the dispensaries contravene city council's bylaws," he said.

"That's probably the most I can say at this point."

A London police spokesperson declined to comment.

The head of a national marijuana business association said the London
strategy is bound to fail, just like the previous police raids.
"That's a completely insane and backward way to approach the matter,
because it's never going to address the root problem," said Ian
Dawkins, president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada, a
trade association representing dispensaries and other cannabis-related

Using bylaw enforcement as a tool to crack down on dispensaries will
only push them underground, said Dawkins, citing the delivery-only
model adopted by some dispensaries, including the Chronic Hub in London.

Proponents of dispensaries often cite Vancouver as a model. Vancouver
licenses dispensaries, setting strict rules about where they can
operate and the hours they must keep. City inspectors fine pots shops
caught breaking the rules or operating without a licence.

Officials in Vancouver champion their approach as more efficient and
cost-effective than police raids.

But Dawkins said the Vancouver model isn't without its flaws, citing
the many dispensary operators who refuse to pay fines.

"None of these tickets have actually been paid out. They've just been
contested, and the city has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of
legal fees," he said, warning London could see the same thing happen.

The future of dispensaries remains hazy following the Liberal
government's recent tabling of legislation to legalize and regulate
marijuana for recreational use. It's expected that move will take
effect by July 1, 2018.

Under the federal proposal, provinces would decide how pot is sold and
distributed. Adults could possess as much as 30 grams of cannabis.
They could either buy it from a provincially approved retailer or grow
as many as four pot plants each.
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