Mayor John Tory is floating the idea of licensing marijuana dispensaries or regulating where in Toronto they can operate after hinting that city officials may have to curb the growing number of pot shops in the city.

In a letter to Tracey Cook, the executive director of municipal licensing and standards, Tory is asking her department to review the operations of marijuana dispensaries and make recommendations for changes, including whether it's possible to licence them or control where they set up operations near schools, community centres and other dispensaries.

"Over the past few months, residents and businesses in different parts of Toronto have raised concerns about the rising number of marijuana dispensaries opening in their neighbourhoods," Tory says in the letter, which is dated Thursday.

"The speed with which these storefronts are proliferating, and the concentration of dispensaries in some areas of our city, is alarming."

In his letter, Tory says he respects the federal government's decision to legalize possession of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes. However, he writes, "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."

Without changes, the number of dispensaries will increase, he warns, suggesting that the health of customers who buy pot from these shops is at risk because the product being sold "is completely unregulated."

He also noted concerns from the community about minors accessing the drug.

'Out of control' growth

Last week, Tory said the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Toronto is "verging on being out of control" and suggested the city would have to move to address the issue. He recently met with former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, currently parliamentary secretary to the justice minister and point man for the federal government as it moves to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana.

The legislation isn't expected until next year, but shops have been popping up across the city as owners attempt to get a foothold in the local marketplace.

Shops have appeared on the Danforth, in Kensington Market and on Dundas Street West. Tory said last week that pot shops are showing up in "what I consider to be unacceptable numbers."

Last week, the city's director of investigation services for the licensing and standards committee said the city's zoning bylaw does not allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. Only facilities recognized by Health Canada are legally allowed to distribute medical marijuana and must do so via courier.

At the next meeting of the licensing and standards committee, scheduled for May 19, Tory says he will ask the committee to review the current operations of dispensaries in the city, and make recommendations on "steps to address concerns, including the feasibility of licensing marijuana dispensaries and other regulatory mechanisms to regulate the proximity of these establishments to schools, childcare and other sensitive uses."

He is asking for a report by the time the committee next meets in June "as I think there is some urgency to this."

He concludes the letter by asking the department to work with Toronto police to use "whatever enforcement mechanisms are currently available to you, to address the health and safety concerns of neighbours and businesses in the communities where these marijuana dispensaries are currently operating unlawfully."