Should John Tory Crack Down on Toronto's Marijuana Dispensaries?
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Should John Tory Crack Down on Toronto’s Marijuana Dispensaries?

Our contributors square off on the legal grey area surrounding weed shops.

In Torontoist vs. Torontoist, two contributors face off to debate a current issue, idea, or event.

On May 12, Mayor John Tory penned a letter to Tracey Cook, executive director of the Licensing and Standards Committee. In it, Tory called for a “crackdown” on the growing number of marijuana dispensaries popping up across the city, citing complaints from residents and businesses uneasy with the businesses. In particular, the proximity of these shops to schools, daycares, and parks has spurred a moral panic.

Tory has asked for “a direct review” of the businesses at the next Licensing and Standards Committee meeting, on May 19. Meanwhile, the mayor gave the go-ahead for Toronto Police to “employ…whatever enforcement mechanisms are currently available to you, to address the health and safety concerns of neighbours and businesses in the communities where these marijuana dispensaries are currently operating unlawfully.”

Since then, one iconic Kensington Market shop, Kind Supply, has closed its doors to avoid the mayor’s wrath—and it’s expected to more will follow in suit.

In this edition of Torontoist vs. Torontoist, our contributors debate if Tory’s crackdown on pot dispensaries is justified.

People like weed, and that makes sense: it’s fun and its risks are minor in comparison to alcohol or other drugs. In fact, Canadians like weed so much that the federal government has promised to make recreational use of weed legal some time next year. This is a welcome change, but it’s important to remember that until then, there is no way to sell weed that’s legal. Until there is some law on the books that allows for this kind of sale, dispensaries are nothing but illegal businesses. They’re the same as shady drug dealers—except they have a storefront.

It’s bizarre when anybody refers to the “grey area” these businesses operate in. If marijuana is not bought from the government, produced by a government-sanctioned body, and mailed directly to a patient who was prescribed the drug, it is illegal. Where is the grey area that dispensaries exist in? There is no room for compromise.

Only next year, if and when the Liberal government passes laws that allow for businesses like the dozens of dispensaries that have popped up in Toronto, should Mayor Tory talk about regulating them within the municipality. How close pot shops are to daycares, schools, or pet stores shouldn’t even be a conversation when they’re breaking the law.

In his letter to Cook, Tory mentions that some residents have complained, and cites some hypothetical health repercussions dispensaries may have on the community. These health repercussions may be bunk, but any resident complaining about an illegal enterprise in their neighbourhood deserves a more robust response than, “Well, we’ll make sure no more pop up.”

In reality, though, Tory’s meek crackdown doesn’t do much. Asking the Licensing and Standards Committee to curb dispensaries so they’re, “at least, maybe, y’know, um, not around the children, please” is silly. If even one crotchety old person complains about a dispensary, it should be shut down. The argument that dispensaries aren’t hurting anybody falls apart as soon as one person complains about them. People who like weed don’t get to decide what other people should or shouldn’t want in their neighbourhoods.

For the time being, dispensaries are illegal, and to many, an unwelcome eyesore in their communities. Tory’s crackdown should not only happen immediately, but it should be more robust, and actually take people who break the law to task.

I sincerely hope John Tory doesn’t crack down on Toronto dispensaries.

My first trip to a Toronto dispensary was during Passover with my mother and brother. My brother, who is also my roommate, suggested I look into a dispensary after witnessing first-hand how crippling my anxiety could be. Whether I was calling him from work post-panic attack, or commenting every Monday evening on how I didn’t get any sleep the night before as a result of my anxiety-induced insomnia, he understood how badly I needed to take control of my mental health. It was only fitting that he accompanied me on my first trip to a dispensary.

For the record, medical marijuana wasn’t my ideal course of action. I have been trying to see a mental health professional, but after being jerked back and forth trying to secure a referral, and my doctor letting me know she didn’t approve of marijuana being used to treat my anxiety (despite my insistence that it has helped in the past), I was fed up. My generalized anxiety hadn’t been formally diagnosed and I couldn’t obtain counselling, so I fell through the cracks.

While my brother tried to find a parking spot, my mom and I were greeted by the friendly staff at a Toronto dispensary. I handed over my ID, and within 15 minutes I was registered and in line to speak to someone. Despite the shop being very busy, it was clean and bright, and the staff were knowledgeable and helpful. I explained to the staff member that I was hoping to use marijuana to manage my anxiety, and in return, he took the time to explain to me how exactly cannabis works to help anxious individuals. He described the difference between sativa and indica (he recommended the latter for anxiety) and how my body would react when I consumed it. Given the opportunity to better understand exactly what I was buying, I felt empowered and educated. The dispensary offered a safe environment to ask questions and get answers.

I spent a year actively trying to get help with my anxiety, not feeling like I was being heard. I spent an hour in a Toronto marijuana dispensary and now I have a real solution. With the legalization of marijuana around the corner, I don’t see the point in Tory cracking down on dispensaries. All it’s doing in the meantime is hurting me, and those like me, who aren’t getting the support they need from doctors and other more traditional medical routes. It has been a difficult to get to a point where I feel optimistic about my mental health. A crackdown on marijuana dispensaries would just be an unnecessary and futile setback.