Pot activists blaze ahead at city hall committee meeting

Sept. 18, 2017

Advocates representing a number of interests came to city hall for Monday’s Licensing and Standards Committee meeting to talk about the proposed provincial cannabis legislation.

Currently, medical marijuana is legal in Canada, and certain growers and sellers are licensed, but according to executive director of licensing and standards Tracey Cooke, that does not extend to walk-up retail stores in Toronto. “Storefronts are illegal,” Cooke told the committee.

The focus of the report on Monday was on non-medical, recreational use.

Of the 16 members of the public who came to speak on the issue, a number represented private industry, including the B.C. dispensary company MMJ Canada.

“We are a legitimate business, but just in the illegal framework,” said Shawn Dang, CFO of MMJ Canada, explaining that they actually want to partner with the government.

But Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker pushed them on it. “You’ve decided to purposely do things illegally, every single day of the week. You know it’s against the law – you flout the law, but today you’re saying, you know what, maybe you should just let us in.”

Clint Younge, CEO of MMJ Canada, tried to speak to the policy element.  

“Clearly, the way the regulations have been rolled out is that it’s favouring big corp and the government and not small businesses.”

Aside from illegal storefronts, speakers also discussed cannabis lounges.

Abi Roach, owner of the Kensington Market Hotbox Café, advocated for shared spaces where people will be able to consume marijuana outside of their private homes, not ideal in dense urban centres such as apartments or those in close proximity to children, neighbours, or the elderly.

“Our cannabis lounges are the solution to the future of public health and safety municipal policy, when it comes to the issue of cannabis consumption in our thriving urban centre,” Roach said. The café owner said she would be OK with vaporizing inside the lounge (as opposed to smoking).

Jodie Emery, a marijuana activist  known as the Princess of Pot, said it’s the industry that should be legalized, and that criminalization has to stop. “It’s reefer madness – redefined.”

Other speakers had customer service concerns; without specialized pot shops, how would the consumer be told “what specific ailments it would treat?” asked another member of the public, Lisa Campbell.

The issue even brought musician and artist Ben Rispin, of the band Saint Alvia, to the meeting to speak against the proposal, touting his decades of experience with the industry in music clubs.

“The only people I know that are celebrating this plan are people who support the CCBO, and the people in the black market,” he said. “And those people are bad dudes… not these people [motioning behind him] who want to work with you.”

The committee moved to accept the recommendations in the report, with the exception of Councillor Jim Karygiannis.

“I think we’ve failed. I think we’ve stifled democracy,” he said. Hearing this, a few members of the public raised their fists in the air.