Toronto

Toronto vows to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries

Toronto's growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries are breaking the rules and could pay for it with tens of thousands of dollars in fines, one city official is warning.

Storefront shops 'not what the federal government envisioned,' city official says

Jessie Young is the manager of a medical marijuana dispensary in Toronto, which opened in February. He says dispensaries follow the same rules as licensed producers and provides patients with in-person options. (CBC)

Toronto's growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries are breaking the rules and could pay for it with tens of thousands of dollars in fines, one city official is warning.  

Mark Sraga, the city's director of investigation services for municipal licensing and standards, told CBC News Monday the city plans to start enforcing legislation related to marijuana shops in the coming months.

"Our zoning bylaw does not permit medical marijuana dispensaries," Sraga said. Only facilities recognized by Health Canada are legally allowed to distribute medical marijuana and must do so via courier, he continued.

We follow the exact same guidelines as the licensed producers.- Jessie Young, medical marijuana shop manager

Despite this, CBC reporter David Common was featured in a video published online Sunday that shows him leaving a Toronto dispensary with marijuana — even without a doctor's note or prescription. 

"Walk-in clients cannot be served through those production facilities," Sraga said of locations approved by the government.

"Having them in a retail, residential, mixed-use environment is not what the federal government envisioned or entailed through those regulations."

Sraga said he is aware of at least 60 storefront locations in Toronto. Most of them operate downtown.

'We can't sit back'

"We can't just have the Wild West," Mayor John Tory said last month in response to the growing number of dispensaries in the city. 

Within the next six to eight weeks, the city will begin investigating dispensaries, issuing warnings and "taking the appropriate legal actions" to ensure all shops are operating in accordance with the law, according to Sraga.

Failure to abide by zoning bylaws could result in hefty fines. The maximum penalties are $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations, Sraga said, acknowledging these maximum penalties are not likely for first-time offences.

In April, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced Canada would be introducing legislation to legalize marijuana next spring.

However, Sraga said the city must enforce the laws that currently exist. 

"We can't sit back and wait until the federal government unveils the new rules going forward." 

City officials plan to investigate and visit medical marijuana dispensaries in the coming months to ensure they are operating in accordance with the law. Maximum fines are $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for corporations. (CBC)

Jessie Young manages Canna-Connoisseurs, a medical marijuana dispensary in Toronto, which opened on Feb. 2. He told CBC News there is a need for this type of shop in the city to provide people with access.

"There's been medical cannabis dispensaries operating in Toronto for over 20 years now," he said. "Not a lot has changed except there's been a lot of new shops opening."

Young said his shop follows rules provided by the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, which states online that it recognizes "the intrinsic worth of cannabis as a viable treatment option, irrespective of legality and social stigma."

"We follow the exact same guidelines as the licensed producers," Young explained. "We have adapted our rules to be as strict and as close to their guidelines as possible."

Mark Sraga, the city's director of investigation services for municipal licensing and standards, says only facilities recognized by Health Canada are legally allowed to distribute medical marijuana and must do so by courier. (CBC)

Young insisted there is a need for storefront medical marijuana dispensaries in the city and people have been receiving the new shop with open arms.

"A lot of people are forced to buy from their licensed producers and when they do that, they have to buy from a mail-order system and it's not as hands on, it's not as [much of] an intimate approach with the actual medicine," he said of the online ordering process.

"They don't really know what they're getting until it arrives in the mail and it's kind of hard for someone to really see what they're getting and know what they should get if they can't see it and taste it and smell it," he said.

At the end of the day, Young said marijuana dispensaries provide people with options.

"It's all about what the patients want and what the patients need."

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie

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