The saga of Toronto's crackdown on pot shops took another twist on Monday, as city council's licensing committee put off a scheduled debate on possible new rules for medical marijuana dispensaries and turned away a group of cannabis activists who had shown up to speak, leaving them seething.
About a dozen pot-dispensary owners and marijuana activists jumped up and shouted at the six-member council committee as its chairman, Councillor Cesar Palacio, explained that the 5-1 vote to defer the item meant they could not speak. Only Councillor Jim Karygiannis, who has aligned himself with the pot-dispensary movement, voted against the deferral.
"People are dying every day, calling my shop, crying for their family members," yelled Brandy Zurborg, co-owner of the Queens of Cannabis medical-marijuana dispensary, one of dozens caught in up in last month's sweep by police and bylaw officials.
Medical marijuana user Jesse Beardsworth, who said she lives with a degenerative disease and spoke to reporters while leaning on a walker, was angry at being denied the chance to speak.
"I am not actually like most people. I actually would wish my illness upon them [the committee members] for an extended period of time so that they would know what it is like to live like this," Ms. Beardsworth said.
In the aftermath of last month's raids, in which 43 marijuana dispensaries across the city were busted for zoning infractions and drug charges, some pot providers have defiantly reopened. But according to a survey by city staff, 34 were still shuttered as of earlier this month. Last week, police busted four more, arresting 23 people.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who moved Monday's deferral motion, was shouted down by pot advocates as he told reporters afterward that it was up to the federal government to sort out its pot policy before the city drafts its own regulations.
The city's many storefront pot dispensaries are all illegal. The federal government allows patients access to medical marijuana, but only from licensed producers, via mail order. Courts have deemed that system unconstitutional and too restrictive, giving Ottawa until Aug. 24 to rewrite its rules. Pot advocates say the system is flawed, and many patients dealing with chronic pain rely instead on storefront dispensaries. The federal Liberals have also pledged to legalize recreational marijuana, with legislation expected next year.
On May 12, Mayor John Tory asked licensing officials to look at rules to keep marijuana storefronts away from schools and limit their number, like those Vancouver has implemented. And he urged police and bylaw officials to crack down on existing pot dispensaries.
Monday wasn't the first time pot-dispensary owners have been denied a hearing at city hall. On May 19, before the wave of police busts, pot advocates showed up en masse to speak to the same licensing committee. But they were told then to come back in June.
The city's licensing department did not give councillors much to discuss on Monday. A report from licensing chief Tracey Cook advises that Toronto lacks legal jurisdiction to regulate pot and recommends revisiting the idea of drafting any new regulations in October, after city officials have assessed Ottawa's coming medical marijuana rules.
Councillor Josh Matlow, who voted for the deferral, said he understood that those who showed up to speak would be upset. But he said hearing them out would serve no purpose, unless the committee had a set of proposed rules before them: "Why on Earth would this committee spend the entire day listening to deputations … when there's nothing that it actually is voting on?"