Toronto councillors back Ontario's marijuana plan in face of criticism from pot activists
City endorses province's idea of shutting down dispensaries in favour of LCBO-like model
Marijuana dispensary owners and high-profile pot activists spoke out at city hall on Monday, urging councillors to go against the province's plans to sell weed through an LCBO-like system once its legalized next summer.
That didn't happen.
The municipal licensing and standards committee voted 3-1 in favour of a series of recommendations, including:
- Endorsing the province's plans to sell pot at provincially-operated stores
- Working with the province and police to crack down on illegal sales
- Ensuring the federal and provincial governments pay the city back for any cost it incurs when marijuana is legalized next summer
Activist Jodie Emery says the plan is a waste of money.
"If the government continues spend money, tax money, on law enforcement for legalization, the taxpayer is going to lose," she told CBC Toronto.
The committee also heard concerns about Ontario's plan to shut down marijuana lounges, where people go to smoke or vape marijuana they've already purchased. Abi Roach, who has run the Hotbox Café in Kensington Market for some 20 years, warns without places to go, Toronto will deal with a surge of complaints about people smoking in public.
"They're going to find that if the lounges don't exist the parks will have people smoking cannabis … the streets will be smoking cannabis," she said.
Roach says people in her area, including the police, understand that she's operating a service that gets pot use off the street, but the province doesn't.
"There's a stigma. Ninety years of prohibition does that. It's going to be hard to get over," said Roach.
Coun. Jim Karygiannis blasted Ontario's approach to marijuana legalization as one big "mistake" and urged the committee to reject being a part of it. The Scarborough-Agincourt councillor also questioned why dispensary owners haven't been consulted on how the city should respond.
Other councillors voted to forge ahead. Chair Cesar Palacio suggested "doing nothing is not an answer," and assured Karygiannis there would be more debate at city council, where the issue will come up again this fall.
Coun. Frances Nunziata, who traded verbal barbs with people in the audience throughout the afternoon, said residents continue to contact her about complaints about dispensaries and welcomed the province's plan to crack down.
'You're talking to the wrong guy,' councillor tells activists
Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker — who repeatedly told the committee he doesn't smoke pot, cigarettes or drink alcohol, prompting Marc Emery to call out for him to "loosen up," — stated his opposition to marijuana lounges.
"We don't allow people to smoke cigarettes in a social setting, so I don't know why we would allow people smoking marijuana cigarettes to have a lounge," he said.
De Baeremaeker added that even if the city wanted to change the rules about who could sell marijuana, that's the province's job. "You're talking to the wrong guy," he said.
Ontario announced its plans just over a week ago, drawing the ire of those in the local marijuana community. The government plans to open 80 cannabis retail operations across the province next summer, eventually expanding to some 150 by 2020. There will also be online sales, and users must be 19 or older.
The city meeting came on the same day as the province unveiling stiff new laws for anyone caught driving with drugs in their system.