By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Medical marijuana dispensaries should be permitted and regulated, rather than shut down by police.
That is according to Marko Ivancicevic, a medical cannabis advocate and the former chair of Oshawa’s accessibility advisory committee and the medical marijuana working group, who says that the businesses should be allowed to operate, rather than being shut down by police.
“These medical cannabis dispensaries operate in such a way that they provide access to medication that’s widely needed for, I’d say, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 medical patients within the Region of Durham,” Ivancicevic told councillors during the latest meeting of regional council.
Last month saw Durham police raid three medical marijuana dispensaries, two of which are in Oshawa. One of the dispensaries raided, the 420 Compassion Club, reopened shortly after, only to be raided again.
Other dispensaries in Durham, including Oshawa’s Temple Medicinal, were not raided but did receive notices from police, giving them a deadline to shut down. Ivancicevic says there are currently no cannabis dispensaries operating in Durham.
Rather than having police shut down these operations, Ivancicevic says the region and its municipalities should instead look to what some communities out west are doing: license and regulate these operations.
“Rather than be behind the eight-ball in the future, you could be ahead of the curve now,” he told councillors.
Last year, Kimberley, BC, became the first municipality in Canada to issue a business licence to a medical marijuana dispensary. Since then, other communities such as Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna have made such options available to prospective dispensary owners.
However, not all councillors were on board with such a concept, citing that despite the federal government’s plans to bring cannabis legalization framework to Parliament Hill in the spring, the sale of marijuana is still, by and large, illegal.
“How can this council or any municipal council that does licensing license a business that is not allowed to operate under the Criminal Code?” Councillor Nancy Diamond asked.
“We can give a piece of paper, but we as municipal councillors must comply with the Criminal Code.”
No action was taken by regional councillors on Ivancicevic`s request, and when he presented the same ideas to Oshawa city council during its regular meeting on Oct. 17, he was met with the same response.
Looking out west
Kimberely is a small British Columbia city, home to fewer than 8,000 residents. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains in the southeastern part of the province, Kimberley was formerly known as the home of the world’s largest lead-zinc mine, putting out millions of tons of the metals until it was closed in 2001.
More recently, however, Kimberely gained a name for doing something that no other municipality in Canada had done before: issue a business licence to a medical marijuana dispensary.
Tamarack Dispensaries became the first cannabis dispensary to gain the licensing from a Canadian municipality in June 2015 – and for the city’s chief administrative officer, it turned out to be the right thing to do.
“They applied for a business licence, which I actually turned down. I said I can’t grant you a business licence because our archaic bylaw says anything that’s against the law of the dominion, the federal laws, we can’t issue you a licence,” Scott Sommerville tells The Oshawa Express, adding that his decision was later overturned by the city’s council.
“Council made the decision to issue a business licence, and we don’t treat it any differently than if they were selling T-shirts or if they were selling vitamins, anything like this. We treat it strictly as a retail business and we don’t actually have any regulations around it specific to cannabis.”
While there were some initially displeased by council’s decision, Sommerville says that Kimbereley’s residents are, overall, very supportive of the dispensary being in their community.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors in our community, and I understand that’s the demographic that’s attending the dispensary. There are folks in need,” he says, adding Tamarack has donated portions of its profits towards a splash pad at a local park.
With the proposed legalization of marijuana coming to Ottawa next year and more and more dispensaries popping up in the mean time, Sommerville says municipalities should look at the prospect of issuing licences now, rather than letting more of the stores pop up unfettered.
“What they’re doing now is turning a blind eye, so they’re saying to go ahead and operate without a business licence and we’ll figure it out at some point,” he says.
“What happens is they start to proliferate and the next thing you know, you’ve got eight or 10 of them in your city. I think it’s better to open dialogue with these businesses through their application for a business licence…as opposed to ignoring the issue until it becomes such a problem that you’re regulating multiple dispensaries.”