City hall defers pot shop debate for later in June

Toronto's licensing and standards committee was to look at Mayor John Tory's move to crack down on landlords of pot shops across the city, but the issue has been deferred to June 27.

After letters sent to landlords of dispensaries, today's licensing committee to look at issue on June 27

Tania Cyalume, co owner of Queens of Cannibis on Bloor Street West, says the city is trying to force medical marijuana dispensaries out of business. (CBC )

Toronto's licensing and standards committee was to look at Mayor John Tory's move to crack down on landlords of pot shops across the city, but the issue has been deferred to June 27.

Marijuana activists were planning to show up at the meeting today to voice their concerns.

Last week, Tory wrote a letter to Tracey Cook, municipal licensing and standards executive director, asking the committee to review the operations of marijuana dispensaries in the city and make recommendations for changes. These would include 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 said in the letter.

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

This week, some landlords of dispensary owners received letters from the city that say they're operating in violation of bylaws. 

"They just basically said there's an infraction on a bylaw," said Tania Cyalume, co-owner of the Queens of Cannabis dispensary on Bloor Street West. "They're basically just trying to scare dispensary owners into closing down." 

'They're basically just trying to scare dispensary owners into closing down.- Tania Cyalume, co-owner of the Queens of Cannabis

The shop opened three months ago. Cyalume said her business is "strictly medical" and responding to a need in the market. She said mail-order marijuana from licensed dispensaries is often difficult to acquire and of poor quality. 

"We're not doing anything illegal, we're just trying to provide patients with their medicine," she told CBC News. "We feel that it's the best medication for a lot of illnesses. We definitely feel discriminated against."

Tory's appearance before the licensing committee is not on the official schedule, meaning there will be no deputations, including from the public, unless the committee votes to hear them, according to Coun. Jim Karygiannis.

Karygiannis, a member of the committee, said there is little that the city can do while it awaits federal legislation to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana. He calls this week's crackdown a "publicity stunt."

City staff should consult with the federal government about its plans before moving ahead with recommendations, he said.

"Not that we're wasting our time, but there's very little that you can do until the federal government just changes the regulations," Karygiannis told CBC News on Wednesday evening.

"The one thing that we can do is legislate distance and make sure that it is safe. But anything else, if we charge them, it will probably end up getting thrown out of court."

Activists opposed to the city's crackdown on marijuana dispensaries plan to show up at Toronto city hall today. (CBC)

While the federal legislation is not expected until next year, pot 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 licensing and standards 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.

Mayor must 'do the right thing'

In last week's letter, Tory asked Cook to direct licensing and standards staff to "employ, in conjunction with the Toronto Police Service, 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."

Karygiannis said he understands that there's a lot of pressure on the mayor to respond to residents of communities where pot shops are proliferating. But, he said, the mayor "has to do the right thing." City staff can issue recommendations, he said. But Tory should check on the federal government's plans before moving forward with any changes.

"So you're going to get police services time to charge people, MLS people running around to charge people, and what are we doing?" Karygiannis said. "It's a publicity stunt."