Ottawa politicians applaud raids on marijuana dispensaries

Seven marijuana dispensaries in Ottawa were shut down this week after mounting complaints from community members and politicians.

Federal government to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana by spring of 2017

Mayor Jim Watson says those wishing to open marijuana dispensaries should wait until federal guidelines are in place. (CBC)

Municipal politicians in Ottawa are applauding the closure of a string of marijuana dispensaries operating illegally across the city in response to mounting complaints.

Police arrested nine people in seven raids this week.

Jody Mitic, the councillor for Innes ward, said politicians had been "tightening the screws" on Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau to crack down on "bandits" selling unregulated products.
Coun. Jody Mitic says he's happy illegal dispensaries are being targeted and closed down by police. (CBC)

"You can't just open up a shop and start selling grandpa's moonshine," Mitic said.

"They're bandits setting up shop in this manner. We needed to show the people that, despite some of the confusion and the grey zones in the law right now, we're still going to enforce what's right and wrong."

The federal government has promised to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana by the spring of 2017 but possession, production and trafficking of marijuana remains illegal.

"Once it's legal and there are rules in place ... we'll collect the taxes off it [and] we'll know a gram of marijuana is actual marijuana," Mitic said.

'There were community concerns'

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said there were "community concerns" in his ward about the illegal dispensaries.

"These operations do not have a legal supply chain so they were supporting criminal gangs," he said.

Two marijuana shops in Fleury's ward — at 290 Montreal Rd and 358 Rideau St. — were shut down by police Friday morning.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury says two dispensaries in his ward were raided by authorities on Friday morning. (CBC)

Fleury said marijuana should be acquired legally — and Health Canada made it clear in a notice on  Aug. 31 that dispensaries were not legal marijuana distributors. 

"It's not a stance on users. It's not a stance on the legalization portion. It's really a stance on criminal gangs and criminal activity," he said.

Almost two dozen dispensaries in the city

River Coun. Riley Brockington said he has received numerous complaints about the marijuana dispensary in his ward — specifically about its location.

"It's across the street from a school, it's kitty-corner to a daycare, it's in a residential community. I do believe there are other appropriate areas for this location to operate," he said.

Though that dispensary was not raided, he said he's pleased direct action has been taken against some of the others. He said he's aware of nearly two dozen dispensaries across the city.

Brockington said he wants regulation around where marijuana shops are situated because he doesn't want them to set up close to schools or other dispensaries.

"Ultimately, if it's not spelled out in federal legislation next year, municipalities will have to pass regulations on where it can and cannot operate. My big hope is to engage the public and dispensary owners on the appropriate location," he said.

'A bit of a limbo period'

Mayor Jim Watson warned that until there is federal legislation in place, it's not prudent to open a marijuana dispensary.

"Right now, the federal government only allows the delivery of marijuana from certain registered spots around the country and they don't recognize these pot dispensaries because we don't know where the product comes from, how safe it is and we certainly don't want them showing up in neighbourhoods or next to schools," he said.

Watson said that while he supports the crack down on dispensaries, it's now up to the courts to determine if the operations were illegal. 

"The reality is, we're in a bit of a limbo period because the federal government has announced that they're going to legalize the use of marijuana but we don't know what kinds of controls that are going to be put in place. And there have to be some quite strict controls so that people underage and so on are not accessing marijuana," he said.

Remaining dispensaries 'on notice'

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau said Friday that the raids were the result of long investigations — and emphasized that dispensaries that weren't raided should be "on notice." He added he hoped the remaining dispensaries "close down on their own accord."

Neal Hanniman says his dispensary has strict rules about who can purchase marijuana and how. (CBC)

But Neal Hanniman, who co-owns the Ottawa Cannabis Dispensary believes his shop was not raided because of its "strict policies and procedures," including only selling to customers with official prescriptions.

"If you don't have a medical prescription we do not sell to you. And if you're under the age of 19, we require that you come in with your guardian," Hanniman said.

"The police went and arrested people or places that they believe to have committed criminal offences. They see what we do and how we're doing it. The proof is in the pudding ... they're not here today, knock on wood."