HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Medical Pot Dispensaries Becoming A Growth Industry
Pubdate: Mon, 02 May 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Authors: David Rider & Betsy Powell
Page: GT3


Toronto planning crackdown amid retail marijuana 'free-for-all'

The Queens of Cannabis owners wanted their bright and airy Bloor St. 
W. shop to have a "healing atmosphere" distinct from dozens of other 
marijuana dispensaries springing up, almost daily, across Toronto.

"We wanted it to be opening, friendly, welcoming. We wanted to take 
the stigma away from medical marijuana," says co-owner Brandy 
Zurborg, a government tax auditor turned pot entrepreneur.

Two glass cabinets display tiny jars filled with strains such as Blue 
Dream, Girl Scout Cookies and Blueberry, along with an array of 
chemical- and preservative-free medical pot products.

With aromatherapy massage, reflexology and other natural health 
services offered in a dimly lit back room, the space feels more juice 
bar or spa than clandestine drug den. Zurborg and partner Tania 
Cyalume say they are operating an establishment as if city 
regulations were in place, and sell only to approved medical 
marijuana patients.

Still, they hope the city gets on with regulating the retail pot 
business and fully expect a crackdown is coming.

"Right now, it's a free-for-all," says Zurborg, as Cyalume nods in agreement.

Mayor John Tory and city councillors agree about the free-for-all 
part, expressing concern about the lack of rules and proximity to schools.

But rather than rules to accommodate the new businesses, Toronto's 
licensing department is planning a crackdown on medical pot 
dispensaries operating without federal approval and in neighbourhoods 
not zoned industrial.

"In the last several weeks, these dispensaries are really becoming an 
issue of concern," Mark Sraga, director of investigation services for 
city licensing, told the Star. "We are developing an operational plan 
to address these issues under our regulatory authority."

Zurborg says current federal rules around medicinal marijuana are 
inhumane. Patients, including the terminally ill, have to lock in a 
prescription with one of the limited number of suppliers, choose from 
an online menu and then hope the pot, which many complain is of poor 
quality, is shipped to them on time.

"Patients have a need to touch it, smell it and grab a little bit of 
it" to know if they like the taste and smell, she says. "I know a 
cancer patient whose shipment was two weeks late. He was very ill . . 
. (crushing) up his cancer meds to inject into a tube that was 
hanging out of his body. That's not acceptable."

The owners insist they're eager to follow the rules, and for 
recreational pot to be legalized across the country as Prime Minister 
Justin Trudeau's government has promised to do next year.

But in Kensington Market on a recent weeknight, the 20-somethings 
crowding Canna Clinic aren't waiting.

A light smell of pot hangs over the funky decor and the burbling 
crowd. The clinic, in the main floor of a converted Victorian, feels 
more like a hipster bar.

People approaching the long membership line are told it's a two-hour 
wait. The clinic closes in 90 minutes so, if they really need some 
pot, they should go to the bigger Canna Clinic on Dundas St. W.

They're also told they need government-issued ID to prove they aren't 
a minor. A "medical professional" - a doctor, a nurse, maybe a 
naturopath - will screen them.

Six staff are busy exchanging payments for white bags of marijuana.

Outside, a young man clutching a bag, told that the city is planning 
a crackdown on such clinics, balks.

"I don't think they should, because pot is going to be legal soon. A 
lot of people need help," he said.

He guesses some inside don't have diagnosed medical conditions and 
are, like him, recreational users who managed to pass the screening.

"I work construction," he says, declining to give his name. "After 
work I like to smoke a joint to relax.

"We're coming from a half-hour drive. We could have got it from the 
streets but we're coming here to get medicinal, legally - sort of, 
whatever it is - marijuana."

A young woman says she has diagnosed anxiety and paid $30 for a joint 
and loose pot totalling three grams.

"Everyone's really nice in there, there's a doctor on site," she 
says. "It's a grey market - legalization is coming - so I guess 
they're trying to corner the market. We shouldn't try to stop it - 
you get more fights at a bar than a vapour lounge."

A woman answering the phone at Canna Clinic's Vancouver head office 
said "we don't really talk to the media."

Dispensaries argue they are operating in a legal grey zone because a 
B.C. judge struck down Harper-era rules on patients growing their own plants.

Sraga, from city licensing, calls that bunk. Health Canada has 
"robust" rules in effect for medical marijuana production and 
distribution, he says. City council reacted to them by saying 
federally approved facilities can't be in residential and commercial 

"To me it looks like clear-cut regulations," he says. "We are going 
to be addressing this issue with the full extent of our authority and 
enforcement tools to ensure compliance with our bylaws."

Dispensary operators could be charged in provincial offences court, 
under the City of Toronto Act and Planning Act, with contravening the 
zoning bylaw.

"We are working in concert with our other enforcement partners," 
Sraga said. "That could be the police, it could be Health Canada. 
It's a combined joint effort."

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How many pot dispensaries are there in the GTA?

There is no precise count but the number has exploded in recent weeks 
and shows no sign of stopping. Website listed, as 
of Thursday, 58 in the region. Informed observers say that number is 
low, with one estimating as many as 90 just in Toronto.

Do you need a prescription to get marijuana from a dispensary?

That depends on the dispensary. Some insist on a prescription while 
others do their own screening. How can I see if a dispensary opens 
near my home?

Several websites including, and have maps tracking dispensaries in cities including Toronto.

What does federal law say about medical marijuana?

In February, a B.C. federal court judge struck down Harper-era 
restrictions on medical marijuana users growing their own plants. He 
suspended that ruling for six months to give Ottawa time to rewrite 
the law. The apparent uncertainty about legal growing - and by 
extension distribution - triggered an explosion of dispensaries in 
Vancouver that is spreading across Canada.

What form of marijuana is available?

It depends on the dispensary. Loose marijuana, rolled joints, oils 
and edibles are among products offered.

Who currently legally grows and sells medical marijuana in Canada?

Some 31 licensed producers have been issued a licence by Health 
Canada, 18 of them in Ontario. Only producers authorized to produce 
and sell to the public may sell or provide dried marijuana, fresh 
marijuana or cannabis oil to eligible persons.

How does someone obtain medical marijuana legally?

A health-care practitioner must complete a medical document on a 
patient's behalf. The patient submits a registration form and medical 
document directly to a licensed producer, who mails the product to the patient.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom