Pot dispensary owners holding rally after city bylaw crackdown
Pot dispensary owners are holding a rally Wednesday in response to a crackdown by the city’s bylaw department.
Pacifico Life was one of 17 dispensaries to receive a “cease and desist” letter from the city last week. Owner Tamara Hirsch says the notice — which cites zoning infractions — went to her and her landlord.
The maximum fine, it notes, is $50,000 upon a conviction, and up to $25,000 per day thereafter. And while no timeline is referenced for this, the message is clear: close up shop.
The city had warned this was coming. A memo went out to city councillors last month, licensing director Ken Leendertse says, informing them bylaw officers would be investigating complaints from the downtown BIA.
But Hirsch is convinced this crackdown is a direct result of political pressure and the province’s desire to secure exclusive control over the market once marijuana is legalized.
“Right now dispensaries need to be banding together, which is what we’re doing here in Hamilton.”
Hirsch says she was not a recreational marijuana user; after getting sick, she discovered medical pot as an alternative to narcotics.
Hirsch says she sells only to medical users and follows strict standards, including “over the top” security, at her two shops, on James Street North and in Westdale.
However, she believes recreational users who prefer marijuana to alcohol also need access.
Leendertse disagrees. These dispensaries are against the law, regardless of whether legalization is on the horizon, he says.
“It’d be like your 14-year-old telling you ‘Dad, I’m going to be able to drive a car in a year and a half, so can’t I just take it out for a spin right now?’ No, because right now it’s against the law.”
And while it is a battle that bylaw officers have, until now, left to police, Leendertse says their job is to enforce municipal bylaws to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules.
Other businesses were peeved they have to pay fees and abide by regulations, while pot dispensaries operate in an unregulated grey area.
Hirsch agrees there is a need for interim regulations. And by targeting landlords, she says the city will likely be successful in their crackdown.
“But people need to see this is a tactic — this is not because dispensaries are bad.”
Kartik Ganatra, a representative from Sealink Properties, acknowledges that the letter is nerve-racking.
“Are we concerned? For sure we are … and we’re taking it seriously,” he said, noting they’re seeking legal advice.
Ganatra says he’s cognizant of who’s in his buildings — and Hirsch is a good tenant.
“I think she’s a very strong advocate for her industry … and I think she’s done a good job educating as well.”