We know that 43 illegal medical marijuana dispensaries in Toronto were raided by police May 26. But what led to shut-downs is a matter of debate for within the medical marijuana community of dispensaries, activists, and licensed producers (LP's).
Police Chief Mark Saunders insists that he acted on complaints from local residents. But longtime activist Jodie Emery and dispensary owner argues that Canada's LP's - companies approved to grow and sell medical marijuana through Health Canada's mail-order system - were the ringleaders of the raids. In the following video clip, she suggests that the crackdown was designed to protect the LP's investment in the medical marijuana industry.
To get the LP perspective, we reached out to Cam Battley, who chairs the advocacy committee for Cannabis Canada - an industry association representing licensed producers. "She's wrong," Battley told Civilized. "It's simply a matter of Toronto becoming fed up with an increasingly unruly and lawless situation."
He added that LP's have neither the inclination nor the resources to instigate a covert crackdown. Here's why, he says.
1. LP's aren't threatened by dispensaries
Battley thinks that the allegation stems from a misperception of the industry. There's a perception that illegal storefronts are outcompeting LP's because Health Canada's strict regulations inflate the operation costs of legal growers.
"There been a lot of claims that dispensaries are hurting our business," Battley told Civilized. "And that's simply not the case. As tightly and properly regulated as we are, there are now 70,000 legitimate patients in the MMPR [Canada's medical marijuana regime]. And it's growing at 10 percent per month. In any other industry, people's eyes would be popping out over a growth rate like that...So business is good for the licensed producers."
So LP's aren't worried about dispensaries in terms of bottom lines, according to Battley.
"We are simply not threatened. We are focused on growing our business. And satisfying the needs of our customers and getting better and better and better at producing medical cannabis...They're doing their thing, and we're doing ours. We're confident that what we're doing is better, more professional."
And he's confident that LP's will outperform dispensaries in the long run without having to resort to dirty tactics. "We have the quality advantage, we have the production advantage and we have the cost advantage," he added, noting that LP prices are more competitive than dispensaries in some markets.
2. Lobbying about public safety, not raids
Battley says LP's aren't worried about bottom lines, but they are concerned about public health and safety. And that was the focus of Cannabis Canada's advocacy work - including a meeting with Toronto Mayor John Tory's staff in the fall of 2015.
"We want people to know the difference between licensed producers and whatever product they're able to buy at a dispensary. In that ours is regulated by Health Canada, it's inspected, it's quality controlled, there's a recall mechanism in place."
Those are safety guarantees that dispensaries can't offer, he says.
"There's no guarantee that illegal growers haven't cut corners and used illegal pesticides, that there are no heavy metals or bacteria or fungi on the product. So we have spoken out publicly on this repeatedly. But we have never called for people to be put in jail for possession of cannabis."
And they want the public to know that patients could find themselves in legal trouble if they shop at dispensaries.
"We don't want people to be misled into believing that it is legal when they purchase marijuana from a dispensary. The legal protection under the MMPR simply do not exist when they are purchasing cannabis from a dispensary."
3. LP's are too small for wide-scale lobbying
Battley also stressed that LP's are too small to mount the sort of lobbying effort required to pressure police into raiding dispensaries.
"We are a young industry with 31 LP's, all of whom are start ups. We simply don't have the resources that I think some people might imagine that we do. We're not like the pharmacy business, where we have enormous resources to pour into lobbying. So that's the reality of the situation. And it's somewhat different than the perception."
4. LP's are grateful to the efforts of dispensaries
Lastly, Battley wanted to show some appreciation for what dispensaries have accomplished in the past.
"We always do recognize the fact that dispensaries - back in the 1990s - were the ones who pioneered medical cannabis in Canada and fought for it. So there's a certain debt of gratitude there. However, I think we've gone well beyond that now."
h/t Georgia Straight