HAMILTON, ONTARIO- City council in Hamilton made moves to control their burgeoning dispensary scene with a bylaw that limits the number of cannabis dispensaries that can open in a given area.

The radial separation bylaw has the support of city council thanks to the urging of Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr, but it cannot be enforced until cannabis is legalized in 2018. In spite of this, Farr wants the city to be prepared for when the inevitable happens.

The community reaction has been mixed. The executive director of the Hamilton International Village BIA, Susie Braithwaite, supports the bylaw, as does Ward 3 councillor Matthew Green, although Green says he doesn’t want people to be criminalized in “a murky grey area of law”.

Jamie Shaw, the Government Relations Director for MMJ Canada, says, “The issue of separation is complex and the reasons are often based on misinformation and unfounded fears, but it can also ensure that there are dispensaries throughout a city, and more neighbourhoods are being served”.

Shaw also points out that “when San Francisco first started regulating dispensaries and personal growing, they created a committee made up of various city officials, cannabis experts, and dispensary representatives to develop policy”. She says that “this would be the ideal way for cities to deal with the massive policy changes legalization will bring in a way that taps the most local knowledge and experience to develop bylaws that are uniquely suited to it”.

There are at least 15 dispensaries currently open in Hamilton, many of which are in Farr’s downtown ward as they are concentrated in the lower city.

Back in February 2017, a number of dispensaries were raided by Hamilton police, including the MMJ Canada in Hess Village, the Medicine Cabinet, and Cloud Nine Head Shop. The Royal Farmacy on Main St. E. was also raided back in December 2016. The only dispensary listed above that has not been charged is Cloud Nine- all others have been charged for cannabis-related offenses.

The police have said that until cannabis is legalized in 2018, they will continue to enforce the law, which some argue is a waste of time and resources.

When asked about how dispensaries can have a better relationship with the police, Shaw said, “Our relationship with the local police in Hamilton is pretty good. CEO (of MMJ Canada) Clint Younge has maintained open lines of communication with them, which can go a long way”.