Protesters back Hamilton pot dispensaries
City has issued cease-and-desist order and threatened fines up to $50,000
Medical marijuana dispensary owners, employees and patients gathered outside City Hall Wednesday in protest of the city’s crackdown against the businesses and to call for regulation.
The rally was organized in response to “cease and desist” letters the city sent to 17 medical marijuana dispensaries last week.
The letters cited zoning infractions and come with a warning of fines up to $50,000, plus up to $25,000 per day after a conviction.
“We’re looking for dispensary regulation,” Britney Guerra, owner of Cannabis Culture on King Street East, said while waving a giant Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf in the centre as cars drove past honking on Main Street West.
She pointed to regulations in other municipalities, such as Vancouver — where Cannabis Culture began — as examples of what could be done. “It worked well there.”
The dispensaries operate in an unregulated grey area with no governing bylaws in Hamilton. They are against the law, but the federal government has said legalization is on the horizon, with legislative framework expected to be proposed this spring.
Licensing director Ken Leendertse says dispensaries are against the law now, regardless of any future legalization. The bylaw crackdown was in response to complaints from the downtown BIA.
Guerra said she tries to be a responsible business owner and neighbour, adding that she’s been told businesses like hers are putting street dealers out of business.
Shane Hansen, who owns Royal Farmacy on King Street East, said the bylaw crackdown will cripple smaller businesses, leaving only the larger dispensaries open and able to sustain the fines.
“I have 900 patients that depend on me being there,” he said, adding that he’s “willing to be a martyr” to keep his doors open.
One of those patients, Cory Kaus, said that before he discovered the medical benefits of marijuana, he could barely get an hour’s sleep a night because of pain and nerve damage from a knee injury.
He has a prescription to access medicinal marijuana but says the marijuana he can access from licensed providers (LPs) is not enough.
“I would have to smoke 25 grams a day,” he said, adding that he finds edibles, gel capsules and oils to be more effective, all which are not available through LPs.
Kaus was previously connected to Brighter Moments Dispensary on King Street East near Ferguson Avenue, which shuttered after police raided it this past summer.
The cease and desist letters follow a warning in a memo the city’s bylaw department sent councillors last month.
Meanwhile, police continue to raid dispensaries in recent months, including trafficking charges last week.
Tamara Hirsch, owner of Pacifico Life, talks to her landlord during a rally of medical marijuana dispensary owners and supporters at City Hall Wednesday.
“Pot Pet” Chris Lawson smoked a joint during the rally outside City Hall Wednesday. Watch a video of the demonstration at thespec.com.