Pubdate: Fri, 08 Dec 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A1


Fed-up landlord cracks down

Ontario's threat of huge fines or jail time for landlords who rent to
illegal pot shops has spurred at least one in Ottawa to take quick
action, in the latest chapter of Canada's move to legalize and
regulate weed.

Police arrived at the popular Cannabis Culture dispensary on Bank
Street on Thursday morning with a bailiff, who changed the locks and
posted a notice on the door saying the lease was being terminated.
Five people working inside were released without charge, according to
staff who gathered outside.

Gerry Shapiro, one of the landlords, said he and his business partner
decided they had little choice, given an impending Ontario law aimed
at ridding the province of illegal marijuana dispensaries. Ottawa
police have also warned landlords that buildings housing illegal
dispensaries may be seized.

Several other Ottawa dispensary landlords say they are seeking legal
advice, or will evict tenants once the Ontario law is passed. The
proposed law includes fines of as much as $1 million for corporate
landlords, while individual landlords could be stung for $250,000 on a
first offence, two years in jail, or both. The law may end up being
more effective than the squads of police who have marched into
dispensaries across the city over the past year, seizing dried weed,
cookies, candy, concentrates, vape pens and pop, and charging the
people working inside with drug trafficking.

Many of those shops have simply restocked their shelves and

Police have said they don't have the resources to investigate and
raid, repeatedly, every shop. And they don't have the power to close
premises, simply to charge those inside.

That, too, will change under the cannabis act now before the Ontario
legislature. It will allow police to close the store if they have
reasonable grounds to believe there is illegal drug trafficking being
conducted inside.

Shapiro says the marijuana laws in Canada are so confusing that it's
become like the "Keystone Kops."

He and his partner own about 40 buildings across North America with
perhaps 1,000 tenants. He said they agreed last winter when a broker
asked to rent space in the Bank Street building for a "medicinal
dispensary like all the other ones on Bank Street."

When police notified Shapiro and his partner that the business was
illegal, he said, they asked Cannabis Culture to leave. The tenant
refused, Shapiro said - and threatened to sue them if the lease was
terminated, employing Constitutional arguments to prove the dispensary
had the right to remain open. "His lawyer says he's not doing anything

"Do I try to throw him out because it's illegal?" says Shapiro. "His
lawyer says it's not. So what do I do?"

Courts have ruled that under the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, medical marijuana patients have the right to "reasonable
access" to to their medicine, and dispensaries often make the case
that they are providing it. The federal government warns that the
dispensaries are illegal. Medical marijuana is considered legal if
purchased through the mail from growers licensed by Health Canada.

Shapiro says it should be up to police, not landlords, to decide
whether dispensaries are illegal and to enforce the law.

"When the police called, I said 'Close 'em down.' "

Police raided Cannabis Culture in March, shortly after it opened, and
again in October. It reopened both times after a day or two.

Shapiro said Thursday that he and his partner decided to try to evict
Cannabis Culture, even though he acknowledges that no court gave them
the legal right to do so. "He could sue us for damages. We just put
him out of business today."

However, Shapiro said they had to make an attempt, if only to prove
they tried if the authorities later try to slam them with big fines or
seize the building.

"At least when (authorities) come to take my $5-million (building) we
can say to police 'We tried to kick him out.' "

Ontario plans to set up marijuana stores run by a subsidiary of the
LCBO. That's expected by July, when the federal government has
promised that recreational marijuanawill be legal across the country.

When Ontario announced its pot plans, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi
said he was putting dispensaries "on notice" that they would be shut

Several other landlords of Ottawa dispensaries, meanwhile, told this
paper they weren't aware of the proposed law and its penalties.

John Sanders said he had no qualms about renting a small building he
owns on Preston Street to the GreenTree dispensary in the summer of
2016. "They aren't hurting anybody." He said he charged his tenant
double the going rate for rent - $7,800 a month - and they paid
promptly. The shop has closed temporarily, but it's expected to reopen
under new management, he said.

However, things will change the minute the Ontario law passes, said
Sanders. "I'll kick them out the same day. Where am I going to get
that kind of money?"

Luigi Caparelli has rented space to dispensaries in buildings he owns
on Bank Street and on McEwen Avenue in the west end of Ottawa. He
asked both shops to leave because they did not provide enough
security, he said. The CannaGreen on McEwen was robbed three times
last summer, and thieves attempted to break in to the Herbal Leaf on
Bank Street, he said.

The shops, which operated under the same B.C.-based manager, left
without a legal fight, said Caparelli. He then rented the Bank Street
space to another dispensary, Green Oasis. They are good tenants, but
are on a month-tomonth lease and probably won't stay much longer, he

Caparelli said he wasn't aware the dispensaries were illegal, and
assumed they were operating in a "grey area."

"I have to assume that if they are clearly doing something illegal,
then law enforcement would shut them down.

"I don't think it's my position, my job, to determine whether it's
legal or not. I assume it's legal. You see them all over the place
every day. I'm assuming it's not clearly illegal."

He had not heard of the proposed Ontario law, but said if it makes it
clear that dispensaries are illegal, that would give him cause to
terminate the tenancy.

One of the landlords of another Bank Street dispensary, Weeds Glass &
Gifts, said he wasn't involved in renting the space. The building is
owned by, among others, a numbered company controlled by Steven,
Michael and Daniel Levinson. Michael Levinson, contacted in Toronto,
said he inherited a share in the building from his parents, but is not
involved in managing it. "I wasn't even aware of what businesses were
there." "They are selling marijuana?" "I haven't paid close attention
to it," he said. "But if we have a tenant who is doing something
illegal, it's a concern."

The lease is handled by CLV Group, but messages left there for the
property manager of the building over the past several days were not

Landlord Georges Nassif, who owns two buildings that rent space to
dispensaries on Montreal Road, had not heard of the proposed law either.

"Thanks for calling me! I'll have to speak to my lawyer. What a

He said the police have warned him the businesses are illegal. "They
call me and say, 'Why don't you shut them?' And I say, 'If they are
illegal, why don't you shut them?' "

He doesn't have the ability to determine whether they are legal,
Nassif said. "Why is the government going to shuffle their problems
with us? The police, they shut them. The next day? They open. Legal,
not legal? If it's illegal, kick them out!

"Even the government cannot proceed. And honestly, now I'm going to be

The property manager of another building housing a dispensary on
Montreal Road says he is waiting for the government to help him kick
out the shop, which sublet the space from the original tenant.

The man says he manages the building for his mother-in-law, who owns
it, but doesn't want his name publicized because he fears the pot shop
operators will trash the space.

The shop operators disappeared a couple of weeks ago and closed the
doors, but he doesn't know if they are coming back.

"It's Mr. Naqvi who said they were coming after these people, right?"
said the man. "He's gone on record . ... I heard that, it was on TV. I
was so happy, 'Oh they are coming! They are going to take care of them
for me.' "

In yet another indication of just how confusing the situation has
become, the man said he was under the impression that he could not
evict the pot shop tenant because the budtenders arrested during a
police raid there have not been convicted.

"And every time you talk to the lawyer it's $250," said the man. "It's
a lot of money for these small people, small landlords like us."
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