We check out two new Toronto cafés that offer space for cats and dogs to play alongside their human friends
Despite being absolutely illegal, the city is now home to dozens of marijuana operations
What’s a grey market? When it comes to medical marijuana, there is only one way to get it legally, and that is by courier from a producer licensed under Health Canada’s Medical Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) revised in 2014. Everything else — the storefront dispensaries pretending to be medical clinics, the vaping lounges, the compassion clubs — is illegal.
This is fact. The only reason there is a grey area seems to be because everyone knows marijuana legalization is coming, but the country is in a waiting period until the federal government decides how to make good on its legalization campaign promise.
So, there is a wild west of sorts with some municipalities choosing to be more accepting of grey market activities than others.
Vancouver has dozens of so-called dispensaries. The city is even starting to figure out how to properly licence the establishments to try to get some sort of control. The town of Kimberley, outside Vancouver, became the first municipality in the country to issue a business licence to an illegal dispensary. Montreal and Toronto, though far behind their West Coast cousins, are in danger of being overrun by these operations as they have already begun to move out of downtown into neighbourhoods such as Forest Hill and Riverdale.
The grey market dispensaries and the illegal activities therein are close to schools and fami- lies and other main street businesses. So, now what?
Toronto Police Service contends that these operations are illegal and if they hear about them or get complaints they will follow up.
This might be true in Richmond Hill, where York Regional Police shut down two operations — CannaClubs and Cannibliss — lickety-split when they opened up late last year, but some dispensaries in Toronto are totally operating in the open, advertising even. These aren’t backroom speak-easys and they aren’t difficult to find.
TPS states, “The Medical Marihuana Producers Regulation do not allow for these storefront type operations. The Service has been, and will continue, to investigate complaints about these dispensaries and make arrests/lay charges, including ones for trafficking, if appropriate.”
Post City uncovered a dispenary slated to open on Eglinton in Forest Hill just by word of mouth. The source, a local business owner who chose to remain anonymous, confirmed that his landlord had told him it will open. And they don’t seem to mind much. It might help that there are already dispensaries operating in the area, one has been there for years. The Chair of the York-Eglinton BIA, Nick Alpami, was surprised to hear of another new dispensary coming to 1478 Eglinton Ave. West.
He had not heard any news of “York Dispen- sary” which has announced online a January 2016 opening. That address had previously been Dream Cyclery. Alpami was unable to comment on the dispensary since he had no knowledge of it. Calls to other businesses and one school in the area received a no comment reply on the dispensary.
A dispensary at Marlee Avenue and Viewmount is called MedicalClub.
Their website lists product available for medical use only and not to be opened within two blocks of their venue. No MMPR or medical practitioner info is listed and a phone call to them received a no comment reply.
“Absolutely shut them down.,” said Ronan Levy, director of Canadian Cannabis Clinics, a medical clinic with 10 Ontario locations that specializes in prescribing marijuana that is provided via mail by a licenced producer via the MMPR. “There are many reasons why we feel this way. The first and foremost is public health and safety. Cannabis sold through dispensaries is not subject to any quality control, quality assurance or screening. It could be laced with pesticides, heavy metals, mould and other drugs.”
Stacey Dowswell is a parent and web developer who lives within a short distance of the soon to open York Dispensary and the one on Marlee. She’s aware the neighbourhood is changing with new businesses, condos, and the LRT. For her, a dispensary doesn’t bother her and is better than an empty storefront.
“As a parent, I don’t see this [dispensaries] as a concern, but I tend to be more of the mindset that hiding such things from my kids is a disservice. If/when marijuana is legalized, I would prefer my children were not stigmatized by the idea that pot is a horrible thing that should be avoided like the plague.”
She adds, “It’s my job as a parent to educate my kids as to how to approach what such businesses offer with appropriate understanding and respect.”
When Post City spoke with Chris Goodwin, owner of the Good Weeds Lounge on Danforth Avenue, he said that he believes consumers of marijuana and locations of dispensaries should be out in the open, rather than hidden. “Why shouldn’t we be more open? We need to normalize and remove the stigma and shame from cannabis users and allow access to their medicine or consume it,” he said. “Dispensaries and lounges are all an important part of this industry.”
The Good Weeds Lounge location is advertised online. A few days after we spoke to Goodwin, the lounge was raided by police. Goodwin, a long-time marijuana activist, and one other person at the dispensary have reportedly been taken into police custody. Goodwin previously managed Vapor Central on Yonge and the Up In Smoke Café in Hamilton. Both locations were raided by police.
Some estimate to marijuana market to be as big as $5 billion nationwide. When the federal government establishes guidelines for marijuana legalization, there will be a fight over who controls the industry and people are lining up to get their share. Dispensaries appear to be no different, putting in the leg work now, the very risky and illegal legwork, to get a foothold with the expectation of a payday.
Currently, there is only confusion and a growing sea of grey spreading across the city.
Clockwise from left: Chris Godwin (l) and a Good Weeds Lounge staff member, Toronto police officer rides by medical marijuana clinic
on Danforth Avenue, Richmond Hill’s now-shuttered dispensary