Medical marijuana advocates and pot-dispensary owners were fuming Thursday after Toronto's licensing committee deferred its consideration of how to regulate the explosion of pot shops across the city and asked bureaucrats to present a report on the issue at a meeting in June.
The move meant that people who had shown up at City Hall to speak to the committee on the issue will have to return in a month, even as a sweeping crackdown is well under way that is expected to see Toronto's pot dispensaries – now numbering almost 100 – and even some of their landlords face $50,000 fines for violating zoning rules.
"They are just trying to ignore AIDS patients, cancer patients – actual medical patients," said Brandy Zurborg, a co-owner of Queens of Cannabis on Bloor Street West, who said she had received a notice from bylaw enforcement telling her to warn her landlord of potential charges. "This is ridiculous. They won't even hear us, yet they are issuing fines and trying to shut us down? … It's appalling."
Ms. Zurborg and a few others shouted at City Councillor Cesar Palacio, the committee chairman, as he moved his motion to defer the debate until June 27, which he said would ensure the public had more notice of the meeting in order to make their views known.
The issue was added to the committee's agenda at the behest of Toronto Mayor John Tory, who sent a letter last week to the committee demanding it ask city bureaucrats to look into new licensing rules in order to control where marijuana dispensaries can operate, especially with regard to their proximity to schools.
Mr. Tory also demanded that staff and police crack down on the dispensaries, many of which have popped up in just the past few months. But city staff said they were already in the process of issuing zoning-violation charges against the city's pot dispensaries by month's end; all of them, city officials said, are operating illegally.
City Councillor Jim Karygiannis said he opposed the move to defer the debate and said the city should also halt its crackdown until the federal government brings in its promised legislation to legalize marijuana.
The motion approved on Thursday instructed the city's municipal licensing and standards department to consult the medical officer of health and the police chief and report back on a "regulatory framework" for marijuana dispensaries. The report must include a review of the current operations of pot dispensaries and a look at licensing regimes in other jurisdictions, including Vancouver, which recently launched its own crackdown.
Some medical marijuana dispensary operators say the influx of so many new shops in Toronto is a byproduct of the Vancouver crackdown, as many have fled that city for Toronto. Some say newer, less-ethical operators have now jeopardized the existence of established dispensaries, whose owners argue they only distribute the drug to patients in need.
Some also decry the federal government's legal mail-order medical marijuana program, saying it is too slow and too expensive. They add that shipments are often lost or stolen. They insist many patients now rely instead on storefront pot dispensaries.
Tracy Curley, a medical marijuana patient advocate, pointed out that a Vancouver Federal Court judge ruled in February that Ottawa's current medical marijuana rules were unconstitutional and too restrictive. The court gave the government six months – until Aug. 24. – to fix the problems.
She said being denied the right to address the committee Thursday, with a crackdown under way, was "putting patients at risk [and] was an insult to thousands of sick Canadians in this city."