Pro­test­ers back Hamil­ton pot dis­pen­saries

City has is­sued cease-and-de­sist or­der and threat­ened fines up to $50,000

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - nor­eilly@thes­pec.com 905-526-3199 | @Ni­coleatTheSpec NI­COLE O’REILLY

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.

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Ta­mara Hirsch, owner of Paci­fico Life, talks to her land­lord dur­ing a rally of med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary own­ers and sup­port­ers at City Hall Wed­nes­day.

JOHN REN­NI­SON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

“Pot Pet” Chris Law­son smoked a joint dur­ing the rally out­side City Hall Wed­nes­day. Watch a video of the demon­stra­tion at thes­pec.com.

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