Toronto medical marijuana advocates ‘stonewalled’ after city framework debate delayed

Advocates for medical marijuana left a Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee meeting at Toronto city hall frustrated on Thursday, after debate on a possible framework for licensing dispensaries was deferred until the end of June.

“We have been stonewalled by city hall to give any input on solutions to this problem,” said Marko Ivancicevic of the Cannabis Friendly Business Association.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis tried to challenge chair Cesar Palacio and allow the medical marijuana advocates to speak, but his request was denied.

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“This is an issue that’s affecting a lot of our vets, a lot of our first responders,” said Karygiannis.

“These people need this medicine.”

Giorgio Taverniti, owner of Frank’s Pizza House, wrote a hand-written letter stating his support of Nature’s Touch Dispensary, which sits several doors down from his restaurant. But councillors never heard of his support due to the deferral.

“My mom has been diagnosed with stage four cancer. I suffer from glaucoma, and my sister also suffers from cancer,” he told Global News, adding that ingesting edible marijuana has given his ailing mother her appetite back.

“Today’s she’s in the hospital getting some treatment. At this point you’re willing to try anything out there and this is an option we have.”

READ MORE: Toronto mayor calls for urgent action on ‘Wild West of medical marijuana distribution’

Canada’s federal government promised to introduce legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by next spring, but until then it’s still considered an illegal substance for recreational purposes.

The city began cracking down on Wednesday by sending letters to landlords of buildings where dispensaries were operating. They warned that the buildings were running afoul of zoning by-laws and that they must come into compliance by Saturday.

It’s expected many will shut their doors until the law is more clearly defined, but other say they’re digging in their heels.

“If they fine us we’ll take them to court,” said Brandy Zurborg, co-owner of Queens of Cannabis.

“This is a human rights issue.”

Daniel Montlouis, owner of Nature’s Touch Dispensary, says around seven dispensaries are considering launching a class action lawsuit against the city.

“It would be on the basis of, basically we’re in the dark, we don’t know what to do,” he said. “We need  some kind of direction.”

Advocates fear cracking down on dispensaries will push patients underground.

“Do we want to have these people in compromising scenarios where they are forced into a back alley to consume and purchase and run the risk of getting robbed?” said Ivancicevic.

READ MORE: Canada’s move to legalize marijuana violates international law, experts say

But others maintain it’s the sheer number of dispensaries in Toronto, now believed to be over 100, that is posing a threat to the public.

“The source of marijuana going into dispensaries is all illegal and there is no testing,” said Adam Saperia of GrowWise Health, a website providing information on medical cannabis to doctors and patients.

The issue will return to committee on June 27, but some worry many dispensaries will have closed their doors by that time.

Handwritten letter supporting medical marijuana dispensaries.

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