Residents fume as pot shops proliferate in Ottawa neighbourhoods

As marijuana dispensaries open across Ottawa in a haze of ambiguous legislation, politicians and residents are asking the police for clarity about where they can be legally located.

'I'm very against this cowboy-pirate-bandit approach that these people are taking,' says city councillor

The only signage visible at a newly-opened dispensary on Innes Road on Tuesday were signs advertising different strains of marijuana. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Politicians and residents alike are voicing frustration over the growing number of marijuana dispensaries in Ottawa.

Police have said they will only investigate an outlet where a large number of public complaints have been made.

On Innes Road in Blackburn Hamlet, a new pot dispensary has opened within a few hundred meters of several schools. Richard Bergman, who lives in the neighbourhood, said he's not happy.

Richard Bergman says a newly-opened marijuana dispensary on Innes Road is marketing its products toward children.
"Well, as parents with children who attend the schools in the area that are literally a stone's throw away, we're very concerned with what's going on there. It doesn't seem like medicinal marijuana," said Bergman.

École Élémentaire Catholique Sainte-Marie is 300 metres away on Innes Road. Good Shepherd School is 500 m further along, and Emily Carr Middle School is about 1000 m from the dispensary.

"It's cookies, lolipops. Stuff with names like 'Midnight Kush' – to us, it seems like it's marketed directly to youth and it's an effort to try to target our kids ultimately, which we're very concerned about," said Bergman.

'I'd like to see these shops shut down'

Business owners nearby weren't willing to speak on the record about the business that opened in their midst this week.

The door of the business, monitored by a web camera, was locked when CBC tried to speak to staff about the business.

"I'd like to see these shops shut down — we don't want to see a proliferation of this kind of marketing tactic in our communities," said Bergman.

On St.Joseph Boulevard in Orlé​ans, Cannagreen dispensary has opened adjacent to a student tutoring service.

City Coun. Jody Mitic said the dispensaries are exploiting a reluctance from police and the Crown attorney to act before federal legislation is tabled.

"There's this little tiny wedge that these places are taking advantage of," said Mitic.

Mitic said he asked Police Chief Charles Bordeleau to clarify the legality of marijuana dispensaries.

I'm not against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but I'm very against this cowboy-pirate-bandit approach that these people are taking- Jody Mitic

"I'm not against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but I'm very against this cowboy-pirate-bandit approach that these people are taking," said Mitic.

In Orléans, where Cannagreen has opened in a building whose tenants include a tutoring centre for kids and a taekwondo school, customer Josh Clatney said he preferred the security and variety of the dispensary to a traditional drug dealer who was, he said, most often working out of a car.

Pot store location 'inappropriate,' says customer

"I think something like this goes along exactly with what the Liberal government had promised," he said.

Still, Clatney didn't think the pot shop should be located in an area frequented by young people.

"I believe that a place like this should not be situated where it is right now. I think it's inappropriate for it to be near a learning centre," said Clatney.

In Carlington, where Ottawa Cannabis Dispensary opened on LaPerriere Avenue in July, Coun. Riley Brockington has written a letter to residents to say he has met with Chief Bordeleau "to seek clarification from him on what steps the Ottawa Police Service is prepared to take."

Police in 'precarious position' with enforcement

Ottawa Police have issued a statement about the appearance of dispensaries around the city:

Cannagreen customer Josh Clatney said he preferred the selection and the quality of marijuana to that available from a traditional dealer. (Stu Mills/CBC)
"The regulations related to this issue are increasingly difficult to navigate," they wrote. "Health Canada has deemed dispensaries to be outside their regulations for medicinal marijuana but there are no enforcement components under those same regulations.

"The only available option is to criminalize persons engaged in possessing marijuana. And that is something that Canadians have very clearly asked the Government to ensure no longer takes place. So it is a precarious position but we are moving forward."

In his letter to residents, Brockington calls himself unopposed to marijuana dispensaries, but suggested the City of Ottawa should follow Vancouver's lead by introducing an annual licensing fee and a requirement that shops selling pot be at least 300 m away from a school, community centre, or other existing dispensary.

That, he said, "may help quell some of the concerns of local residents that I have heard."

Repeated efforts to speak with Ottawa Police about the dispensaries were unsuccessful.