Toronto Mayor John Tory penned an open letter to the head of the city’s municipal licensing and standards committee Thursday calling for urgent action to be taken with the help of police on the “alarming” rise in the number of “unregulated” marijuana dispensaries cropping up in the city.
“The speed with which these storefronts are proliferating, and the concentration of dispensaries in some areas of our city, is alarming,” Tory wrote.
“Although we respect the federal government’s decision to legalize possession of marijuana for non-‐medical purposes, the city has a responsibility to ensure this emerging industry operates responsibly, without a negative impact on the health and safety of our residents and neighbourhoods.”
Tory said that if the dispensary issue is left unaddressed, the number of dispensaries will only increase amid concerns over product standards and that minors could potentially access marijuana from some storefronts.
“All I’m saying is we just can’t have allegedly medical marijuana dispensaries popping up in every street corner in a completely unregulated manner, pending the change of the law,” Tory said at a news conference Thursday.
“The law has not changed yet, and I recognize and support the fact that it’s going to change. But in the meantime we can’t have the Wild Wild West of medical marijuana distribution.”
“People have said to me very clearly: they are concerned about their children.”
Tory added that the growing number of dispensaries carry potential health risks for patrons where the marijuana they purchase is “completely unregulated.”
“The proliferation of these so-called medical marijuana dispensaries is not responsive to the increase in the number of bona fide prescriptions issued by doctors,” he said. “There’s something else going on here.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne reiterated Wednesday she wanted marijuana sold in LCBO stores across the province once the substance is legal, which she expects will be next year.
“We don’t know what the regulations are going to look like, we don’t know what the laws are going to be, I was just putting it forward as an option because I believe there needs to be some regulation,” she said.
“I think we’re in a tricky grey area right now because we know that the federal government is going to be moving forward with legislation, but there hasn’t been much discussion.”
Tory called for a review of the current operations of the dispensaries, which one dispensary mapping website numbers at close to 100 in Toronto, at the next Licensing and Standards Committee meeting on May 19.
The review would recommend steps to address concerns, look at the possibility of licensing marijuana dispensaries and regulate their proximity to schools, childcare centres and other “sensitive” areas.
“It’s a little frustrating for the stores to be selling to everybody,” said Chris Cardozo, owner of Toronto Holistic Cannabinoids dispensary.
“All of my clientele have prescriptions valid by doctors, signed. All of them suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, ADHD, stress or anxiety.”
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Tory said the city should look to Vancouver and Victoria for guidance on the issue, given that they have introduced licensing fees for dispensaries and regulated how close they can operate to schools, community centres and even other dispensaries.
“In Vancouver there were license requirements that talked about how close these could be for each other, how close they could be to a school, plus they imposed a fairly handsome license fee,” Tory said.
“People were telling me when they were in the process of getting out of the business in Vancouver they were saying well now we’re going to Toronto and now they’re here.”
Meanwhile, the mayor called for the city to work with Toronto police to use “whatever enforcement mechanisms are currently available” to address the concerns of residents and business about the dispensaries that are “operating unlawfully.”
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said police are operating in line with what the mayor suggested, but only take action when a threat to public safety is brought to their attention.
“Our position is, where we receive a community complaint or where there is a public safety issue we have investigated and we will continue to investigate,” he told Global News, adding that examples include the selling of marijuana to children or dispensaries located near schools.
“We have to prioritize or resources, we have several hundred fewer officers than we did two or three years ago and so we make decisions about where our officers will do the most good and the highest priority consideration with that is public safety.”
Tory added that every effort should be made to have a report ready ahead of a June committee meeting due to a sense of “urgency” on the issue.
With files from Peter Kim and Ashley Carter