Last week, Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed cracking down on the megacity's medical marijuana dispensaries, which he said were "verging on being out of control." His plan was to fine these businesses for bylaw infractions. Because all marijuana storefronts are illegal in Canada, every dispensary in the Ontario capital are unsanctioned by municipal zoning as well as federal law.
But now he's taking a page from the Vancouver and Victoria playbook by proposing to license and regulate the burgeoning industry instead of trying to shut down all dispensaries.
"Although we respect the federal government's decision to legalize possession of marijuana for non-medical purposes, the city has a responsibility to ensure this emerging industry operates responsibly, without a negative impact on the health and safety of our residents and neighbourhoods," Tory wrote in a letter to Tracey Cook, the head of the city's licensing department.
Cook has been charged with drafting a regulatory regime that would control the spread of dispensaries and ensure that those allowed to operate do so in a safe manner. At the top of her list of duties is to see that none of these stores are close to schools, childcare facilities or other establishments with "sensitive uses."
Toronto will look to B.C. for best practices
To develop effective regulations, Tory asked Cook to consult with Vancouver and Victoria, which has also begun licensing these businesses.
So instead of trying to close all of the megacity's dispensaries, of which are estimated to be more than 100, Tory proposes to target those that pose a danger to public health and safety. In the meantime, he wants city officials to combat any businesses that endanger the public.
"I would ask that you employ, in conjunction with the Toronto Police Service, 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," he told Cook.
How many dispensaries will be allowed to operate won't be determined until the process of regulating begins. Vancouver had as many as 160 locations before regulating began, but less than half of them were approved in the first round of licenses. So regulating could reduce the total number of storefronts considerably - if stores comply with municipal law, which some are doing and some aren't in Vancouver.
Tory's rapidly evolving position might have something to do with favorable attitudes toward dispensaries among Toronto voters and Ontarians in general. Or perhaps he was convinced that dispensaries weren't all that bad when he made a surprise visit to one last weekend.