Several members of Toronto’s cannabis community addressed the city council today to voice their opposition to the proposed moratorium on unlicensed dispensaries and cannabis lounges. This gathering was in response to announcements made on Sep. 8 by the Ontario Provincial Government, which stated that law enforcement will make efforts to close all unlicensed cannabis operations within one year.
The closure of these establishments will clear the way for a fully government-run system overseen by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).
Abi Roach, owner of one of the most popular cannabis lounges in the city, the Hotbox Cafe, and director of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association (CFBA), presented a thorough analysis to show the Toronto City Council that Torontonians need vapor lounges.
“The private dwelling consumption scheme the Province of Ontario is planning to roll out is simply not feasible for the City of Toronto,” Roach told the council.
Roach went on to add that 50 percent of the housing market in Toronto consists of rental units, 90 percent of which are non-smoking. These figures pose a problem for the many people who want to consume but have nowhere to do so considering public consumption will remain illegal.
“Are landlords expected to allow cannabis smoke in apartments that have no cigarette smoking rules? Will this take into consideration neighbors, roommates, and others living in close proximity to units occupied by cannabis consumers?” asked Roach.
Roach then went on to outline the “vast tourism market” that exists in Toronto, which will undoubtedly grow once legal cannabis is available. These potential marijuana customers will take advantage of Toronto’s many hotels and other accommodations, most of which are completely non-smoking and at odds with the proposed consumption rules.
“People who live in urban centers simply do not have the luxury of private, outdoor space. Our parks and streets will become consumption spaces if cannabis lounges are forced to lock their doors, not due to a lack of respect to the rule of law, but simply out of necessity,” added Roach.
Councillor Jim Karygiannis asked Roach if the federal or provincial government consulted her on the “LCBO model,” to which she replied bluntly: “Absolutely not, they don’t care.”
Next up to speak was Lisa Campbell, who is one of the founders of the Green Market, a popular craft cannabis farmers market in Ontario. Campbell was speaking on behalf of privately owned, currently unlicensed dispensaries in Toronto that serve the community by providing access to medical cannabis. These businesses are subjected to constant law enforcement due to their illegal status and scheduled to be terminated within the one-year timeline given by the government.
“The fact that the Ontario Government has decided that they would like to take our jobs and distribute cannabis is actually a sign of normalization,” said Campbell. “We are starting from a restricted framework but there’s lots of room to create diverse licensing.”
Campbell went on to talk about how the government’s proposal for a rollout of storefronts over the next few years will simply not be enough to fill consumer demand. She also stated that the municipal and provincial government has been completely unresponsive to local cannabis businesses trying to be a part of the legal framework.
“If we are not going to have private storefront dispensaries because the city has decided [along] with the province and federal government to shut us all down, in order to eliminate the black market you need to provide opportunities to integrate the existing grey market with licensing so we can be compliant,” said Campbell.
Campbell reminded the council that the unlicensed community wants to be compliant with the city and government to provide safe access but “without having conversations and engaging stakeholders meaningfully in dialogue, that’s impossible.”
The incredible list of speakers who presented to the council today went on and on, including testimony from patients, dispensary owners, and activists like Jodie Emery.
In brief interviews with Marijuana.com, Roach, Campbell, and Emery all commented.
(Marijuana.com) Did city councilors listen with open ears and open minds to the issues at hand?
“I believe there were receptive Councillors who were open to our messages, especially Jim Karygiannis,” said Emery. “There were a number of very persuasive arguments and statements from speakers. The media is also paying attention, so our message is being heard even if it’s not yet being adopted by officials.”
“[Councillors] listened to some with open ears and minds. Some topics got more attention,” said Roach on the day’s proceedings.
It was Lisa Campbell who had the most optimistic view for the future of cannabis regulation in Canada’s largest city.
“There were many powerful deputations today and councilors and civil servants were all listening,” said Campbell. “While dispensaries may remain under attack, council understands that provincial storefronts are not enough to satiate the appetite for craft cannabis in Toronto.”
Cover photo courtesy of Paul Bica