Emergency Meeting Called for Toronto Cannabis Industry

Toronto’s growing dispensary community is hoping that strength in numbers will be able to combat aggressive regulations from government officials.

Last week, Toronto mayor John Tory said the number of dispensaries in the city was “verging of being out of control” and officials have suggested the city will soon take action to regulate the market.

In an attempt to proactively guide rules governing the industry, instead of having them handed down by the government, the Cannabis Friendly Business Association is hosting an emergency meeting for the cannabis industry in Toronto.

CFBA spokesperson Abigail Sampson said she thinks the number, estimated at over 120, and density of Toronto’s dispensaries have the city concerned that existing communities will be changed and that only by uniting with a common voice can dispensaries be heard through the process.

“It’s a great concern to the cannabis industry that the City of Toronto is going to be cracking down on dispensaries,” said Cannabis Growers of Canada director of outreach Jaclynn Pehota, who urged the city to take a more collaborative approach.

“There’s an opportunity here for the largest city in Canada to look at the challenges that Vancouver faced while they put their bylaws in place, look at the lessons that Victoria has taken from that challenge and move forward in a fact-based, non adversarial approach toward the community,” Pehota said.

Sampson pointed out that the city already has a bylaw, put in place in 2014 during the implementation of the MMPR program, which restricts “premises used for growing, producing, testing, destroying, storing, or distribution of medical marihuana or cannabis” to be 70 metres from lots zoned as residential.

While Sampson said the bylaw was put in place in response to Health Canada licensed producers, she’s concerned that it’s broad enough for the city to use it to shut down operations.

“As the bill reads, it sounds like it would heavily effect the lounges but, in fact, all cannabis business would be impacted,” Sampson said. “Really, every single [Kensington] shop has an apartment on top, so all of those dispensaries in Kensington would need to close because this entire area is mixed dwelling.”

Toronto municipal licensing and standards director Mark Sraga said the sale and distribution of cannabis at dispensaries is illegal under the current federal framework.

“These storefronts are also operating in contravention of the City’s zoning bylaws,” Sraga said, through email. “The City’s municipal licensing and standards division is liaising with other enforcement agencies and City divisions, and will be undertaking all appropriate enforcement efforts.”

Pehota said that the rapid expansion of dispensaries has made the city feel like it’s on the defensive and needs to respond but the risk is that the industry and patients won’t be consulted as new rules are put in place.

“At least in Vancouver, I think we’ve demonstrated that without some kind of representative body that really advocates for the dispensaries we can end up with organizations being consulted that didn’t speak for the community,” Pehota said. “I think it is important that the businesses recognize that the way to go about this is to not wait for a bylaw to be handed down but, rather, to be proactive and the only way to be proactive is to speak with one voice.”

The meeting takes place May 17 at the Hotbox Cafe, all Ontario cannabis business owners and stakeholders are invited to attend.