Toronto Dispensaries and Patients Fight Back


Being a dispensary owner in Toronto means you’re a glutton for punishment.

You spend your days negotiating and obtaining cannabis for patients who would otherwise have no decent distribution method in place, other than waiting for expensive couriers or Canada Post. If that wasn’t enough while doing your job you’re under constant threat of being raided and arrested, or even being robbed at gunpoint. Such is the life of a dispensary owner in Canada’s largest city.

This morning, however, the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, the Toronto Dispensaries Coalition, patient advocates, and dispensary owners held a much-needed press conference. This was in an effort to provide a rebuttal for the one-sided media attention that favours comments from law enforcement as opposed to medical cannabis retailers. It was an attempt to find common ground between police and dispensaries who have been at odds since Project Claudia.

One of the biggest problems for cannabis retailers is that they are afraid to call police when a robbery or assault has taken place due to fear of being arrested for selling marijuana without a license. The press conference provided a public forum where both law enforcement and the cannabis community could discuss how to quell the recent surge of robberies.

patients speak up for dispensaries in toronto“Part of the issue is that dispensaries are worried about being raided, but I believe that is not the priority of the Toronto Police Service at this time. The priority of the Toronto Police Service is to put an end to these violent crimes,” said patient Tracy Curley.

Since June of last year, there have been 17 dispensary robberies in Toronto, eight of which were reported by customers and local witnesses. Earlier this week, police held a press conference of their own to address the robberies, placing the onus on dispensaries to report a crime regardless of the consequences.

Finally, it seems that the cannabis dispensaries’ call for help has not fallen on deaf ears. As part of a solution, crime prevention officers will be deployed to the retailers so owners can discuss the importance of calling in any violent activity. Further, the officers will be handing out crime prevention kits that include reading material on how to protect their businesses and other tools to help identify suspects.

“I am very glad to say that there is now an open-door discussion about steps that dispensaries can take to keep themselves safe,” said Curley.

The most logical step towards a safer city would, of course, be for municipal regulators to issue licenses and set standards for dispensaries to operate. The City of Toronto commented on this, saying that there is no way that they can issue regulatory licenses because they are currently illegal under federal law. Regulatory regimes have been implemented in large cities like Vancouver and Victoria.

Although this “meeting of the minds” between cops and dispensaries is likely not the end of scuffles between the two, both sides are smart enough to know that preventing violence in our streets is of the utmost importance.

As everyone works in their own way to stop the robberies and assaults, the old saying rings truer than ever: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Good luck to all.

Photo Credit: Samantha Marie from Queens of Cannabis

About Author

Jon Hiltz was a journalist for for two years and is now director of content for INDIVA, a licensed cannabis producer in Ontario Canada.

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