Yesterday, the largest ever coordinated attack on business owners was carried out by the Toronto Police Service. In an action reminiscent of Operation Soap – the violent invasion and shutdown of several LGBTQ businesses in 1981 – Project Claudia involved police laying siege to dozens of cannabis dispensaries in the GTA and stealing millions of dollars’ worth of inventory, crippling their ability to serve patients.

Why did this happen?

Who is to blame?

I, and others, have covered the ‘why’ in articles on this site but, in this post, I’d like to focus on ‘whom.’

Ever since 2012, when the new MMPR was proposed, our industry has been in a fight for its very existence against a criminal organization that has managed to convince our government that they, despite having zero experience, know what’s best for patients, and the businesses that have been safely and successfully serving them for decades.

The Shills

Ljubica Kostovic

In a post appearing in the Globe & Mail, a day after the assaults and robberies, Ms. Kostovic called the actions “long-awaited” and “welcome news for patients everywhere.” She claimed that risking liberty and property to faithfully serve patients with cannabis of far higher quality than LPs is “giving compassion a bad name” and that she, as a supposed patient herself, can’t possibly risk buying product from a dispensary.

The real story here though is that Ms. Kostovic is the Director of Communications of GrowWise Health, a clinic designed to shovel patients in to the money-starved maw of LPs. These clinics will typically accept kickbacks from the ones they write medical documents for, or charge patients for one. A practice that physicians like Dr. Rob Kamermans are hypocritically being sued for.

Ronan Levy

Mr. Levy is more prolific than Ms. Kostovic, but no different. He’s the co-founder of Canadian Cannabis Clinics, another medical document mill for the LPs. In an absolutely off-the-rails opinion piece in the Toronto Star, Levy cooks up as much fear pornography as he possibly can in order to cast doubt on dispensaries.

Equating dispensary owners to drug pushers, he lauds LP’s for being “cleaner (tested for mould, viruses and pesticides), safer and cheaper than anything you can buy at a dispensary.”

This is a common theme in LP-speak; their product is clean and tested, while you may as well be playing Russian roulette going to a dispensary.

You’d think he’d be able to cite some actual evidence to prove his case. After all, Ronan is a lawyer and he ostensibly understands what the burden of proof is. He expects us to forget that LPs Tilray, Peace Naturals, and Whistler have all faced product recalls due to contamination and unsafe growing practices. Another early LP, Greenleaf Medicinals, shut down because growing a plant was too much for them to handle safely.

LP product is also incapable of meeting the requirements for organic product certification due to the allowable pesticides under the MMPR, while most of what is sold in dispensaries does.

These shills rely on lies and misinformation in order to disparage businesses that have been operating safely for over a decade. But it’s no accident that “BC Bud” is known all over the world.

Dispensaries sell amazing, safe, high quality cannabis that LPs can’t match. Get over it.

The Front Groups

Leafly

A popular software application across North America for finding local cannabis strains. The Canadian experience has been somewhat different though than our US counterparts.

Leafly’s Canadian customers have repeatedly complained about the rates they charge, as well as the poor results they get in terms of their brand exposure. Dispensaries are consistently buried under a mountain of illegal LP advertising.

Owned by Privateer Holdings, Leafly is but one of a portfolio of companies that chiefly includes the LP Tilray, and Tilray has been no friend to the dispensaries.

If you’re using Leafly, then not only are you handing your data over to companies seeking to destroy and monopolize our industry, you’re also helping fund your own oppression. Don’t be a pawn in their game.

Cannabis Canada (formerly CMCIA)

This is the primary trade association and lobby group employed by the LPs. In a January 2016 press release, the group encouraged violence against dispensary owners and parroted the fear porn that so many of the LP shills are known for.

Executive director Colette Rivet, spent her career up to this point working for organizations like the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. These same organizations have spent decades marginalizing the medical utility of cannabis, contributing to the hysteria fueling violence, and stonewalling efforts to improve patient access to this important medicine.

Their unscientific approach to cannabis, and repeated inflammatory and unsupported assertions about it, have only caused confusion and prevented evidence-based legislation from emerging.

Cam Battley, chair of their advocacy committee said the assaults on Toronto dispensary owners were “a long time coming,” and that “we warned the municipal government last fall that things were getting out of hand.”

Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada (CTAC)

With all the bad press surrounding LPs and their front groups it’s no surprise to see that new or rebranded front groups are constantly emerging. Launched in early 2016, this new group is proposing bringing back all the worst elements of the MMAR in order to satisfy Justice Phelan’s order from the Allard trial.

In a document published on their website they recommend bringing back the PUPL and DPPL licenses (albeit under different names) under substantially the same rules. Caregivers would be able to produce for only four patients at a time and only 12 plants per patient.

It’s no surprise that they would recommend a heavily restrictive, doomed-to-fail set of regulations in response to the ruling. For decades, patients have been suing the government for repeatedly violating their Charter rights, and with every success the government (deliberately?) botches their revisions. Why would they break tradition when it comes to the Allard ruling?

In the Sfetkopoulous trial of 2008, the court ruled that the one-to-one producer/patient ratio imposed by the MMAR was unjustifiable. In response, the government raised it to two-to-one… gee, thanks. Now we’re supposed to accept a limit of four caregivers?

Do these people really expect to be taken seriously?

Apparently so because in early May, CTAC sent lobbyist Kate Dalgleish, who is also lobbying for CTAC federally, to the City of Toronto to lobby on their behalf on the issue of dispensaries. The CTAC website reveals very little about who they are and where they come from but the lobbyist registry identifies their head office as being in the HSBC building in downtown Vancouver. Take from that what you may.

CTAC’s Executive Director, Rosy Mondin, is another lawyer and also the owner of Soma Labs, which performs extractions on organic compounds and provides R&D services for vitamins and nutritional supplements.

The Licenced Producers (LPs)

Tweed (Canopy Growth Corporation)

What began as one of Canada’s first LPs (thanks primarily to their deep connections to the Liberal Party) has since grown in to a multi-headed hydra of industrial destruction and consumer disappointment. After renaming themselves to Canopy Growth Corporation, they acquired another LP by the name of Bedrocan who proudly produces gamma-irradiated product.

Tweed’s CEO, Bruce Linton, has a long history of anti-dispensary statements and one doesn’t have to do much digging to find them. More interestingly though is the financial story behind this firm.

As one of the first publicly-traded LPs, they have to consistently make their financial statements available to the public. To an educated eye, the company is an unmitigated disaster.

The company’s cash flow statement is completely upside down with investor money coming in, then going out on operations. Somewhere along the line I think Canopy’s executives forgot that the whole point of a company was to have the money moving in the other direction.

At their current cash burn rate, they only have enough funds in the bank to last another year or so, two at most.

Canopy is definitely feeling the heat, and their failure will be a spectacular one if they can’t find a way to a positive operational cash flow. How much more dilution will their owners be willing to take before the stock completely crashes? Over $137 million has been sunk in to the company thus far and still no signs of positive returns.

Tilray (a.k.a. Lafitte Ventures)

Another of the first LPs to receive a license, Tilray has long attracted the ire of the cannabis community due to their deeply troubling actions and statements against dispensaries. Even Kirk Tousaw has remarked that their marketing strategy hinges on liberally insulting home-growers and casting aspersions upon dispensaries.

They retained Ginny Movat, of Crestview Strategy, to lobby the City of Toronto on their behalf. A seasoned political operative, who has worked for both the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as well as the Ontario PC Party, Ginny has had extensive communications with Toronto council members, staff and City employees beginning Feb. 24 of this year. Most notably with councillor Joe Cressy, advocating for a “strong, well-regulated medical cannabis system.”

For LPs, a well-regulated system is one that ensures their cartel can operate unchallenged and continue to extract monopoly profits from distressed patients. As mentioned before, they’re also using their cannabis app Leafly so that the industry hands them not only the rope, but the money to hang dispensary owners with.

Conclusion

When animals are backed in to a corner, they become violent and unpredictable. We’re witnessing the same behaviour from the licensed producers, their front organizations and shills. As the failure of LPs becomes more and more evident, expect these cries of frustration to only get louder.

We aren’t dealing with respectable businesspeople who face their competition honourably, and with deference to their ultimate authority, consumers.

We’re dealing with a criminal organization that has co-opted our government because it’s easier (and legal) to have police be your hired thugs. They think that it’s not only possible, but preferable, for governments to strip away the rights of their citizens in order to guarantee their profit margins.

They think that spreading fear, hate and violence is the way to win market share.

Don’t let them.

If you care about this industry, and the patients who depend on it, then you must take action. Medical or recreational, we all have something at stake and it’s no longer acceptable to be sitting on the sidelines.

When those four bath houses were raided in 1981, thousands took to the streets and it was not pretty. There were riots, hunger strikes, and repeated action until the affected people got what they wanted.

It’s time for us to do the same and, when we’re done, politicians should be quaking in their boots at the prospect of the cannabis vote coming down on their heads like a guillotine.

Boycott all LPs, their associates and front organizations. Encourage people to do the same. Join the Cannabis Growers of Canada, the only national group representing the true interests of the cannabis industry.

As the great US statesman Frederik Douglass once said; “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

It’s time our demands were heard.