Pot dis­pen­sary own­ers hold­ing rally af­ter city by­law crack­down

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MOLLY HAYES mhayes@thes­pec.com 905-526-3214 | @mol­ly­hayes

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.”

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