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Toronto’s debate over medical marijuana, dispensaries pushed back to October

Coun. Jim Karygiannis says he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on how authorities are dealing with marijuana dispensaries in the city. (CBC)

The debate to review the City of Toronto’s approach to medical marijuana and dispensaries was pushed back Monday until October, as one city councillor slammed recent police raids on dispensaries as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The municipal licensing and standards committee was expected to review regulations on Monday governing medical marijuana use and the proximity of dispensaries to schools,

But now that won’t happen until after the federal government revises its own regulations on the issue later this year.

Monday’s meeting follows a series of police raids on pot dispensaries across Toronto.

“That was money that was not well-spent,” said Coun. Jim Karygiannis, who was joined by medical marijuana advocates before the committee meeting.

“It was a knee-jerk reaction because of a couple hundred emails.”

Michael McLellan, who represents the Toronto Dispensaries Coalition, said he wants to see a “collaborative approach” as an alternative to enforcement action.

“We’re wanting to start a dialogue today,” McLellan said, adding he wants to see “safe and open” marijuana access for those who need it.

“Let’s start a conversation,” Karygiannis said. “Stakeholders need to be at the table.”

Pot for patients

On Friday, CBC News reported 23 people were arrested in police raids of four marijuana dispensaries, prompting pot advocates to speak out against those actions.

“I have a lot of respect for the police chief and the way he thinks,” the councillor said, but added that when it comes to the raids, “we don’t see eye-to-eye.”

Medical marijuana user Jesse Beardsworth spoke out in support of marijuana dispensaries.

“I feel very strongly about patients’ rights,” she said.

Several marijuana dispensaries, such as this one on Danforth Avenue, were shut down last week after Toronto police raided pot shops deemed illegal by authorities. (Rebecca Silverstone/CBC)

In May, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders noted that any dispensary claiming to be distributing marijuana to give access to patients are doing so to make money.

They are distributing for monetary gain, let’s make no mistake about it,” said Saunders.

“If they’re very concerned about the well-being of people, then I would expect that they would look at the regulatory processes, have a standardization of how it’s being manufactured and distributed, identify what the quantity of THC is in the product and also be able to validate through quality control that [it] is, in fact, correct.”

Only facilities recognized by Health Canada are legally allowed to distribute medical marijuana and must do so via courier, the city’s director of investigation services for municipal licensing and standards said in May. As the law is currently written, medical marijuana dispensaries are not permitted in Toronto.

No to LCBO?

Last December, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the government-operated LCBO is a solid option for legal marijuana distribution.

“It makes sense to me that the liquor distribution mechanism that we have in place — the LCBO — is very well-suited to putting in place the social responsibility aspects that would need to be in place.”

Karygiannis acknowledged he wants to see a plan that ensures patients can readily access marijuana while keeping it away from children.

“If it’s an LCBO [framework], it goes to the province and it’s province-wide regulated,” the councillor said.

McLellan urged policymakers to rule out the LCBO as a viable option for marijuana distribution because of the apparent dangers of mixing alcohol and marijuana.

“[It] doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

Federal government legislation on the legalization of marijuana is expected to be made public by next spring following a campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.