MP Adam Vaughan on Toronto’s approach to dispensaries

The city can do more to create regulations, and dispensaries need to be more willing to work with the city to make this happen, says Vaughan.

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Adam Vaughan is the the MP for Toronto’s Spadina—Fort York, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, and has acted as a point man on legalization for the party on several occasions.

Previous to his time as an MP, Vaughan served two terms at City Hall, and was one one of the votes against the city’s zoning regulations (438-86) for Licensed Producers under the MMPR in 2014. These regulations have been part of Toronto’s approach to dealing with dispensaries in the past, in addition to more recent police action through Project Claudia.

In the wake of Project Claudia, the Toronto Board of Health also called for more clarity from the Federal government, with City Councillor Joe Cressy, who also sits on the board, saying the city is in a ‘legislative limbo’.

Although Toronto has said they will continue to enforce existing federal law, they also say they are continuing to wait for both federal as well as provincial guidance on how, if at all, to regulate retail medical marijuana stores.

After Toronto Mayor John Tory’s letter this past May asked the city’s Municipal Licensing & Standards Committee (ML&S) to look into possible regulations to address the proliferation of dispensaries in Toronto, Vaughan issued a series of tweets saying the city already has the power to regulate dispensaries.

The ML&S has deferred the issue three times since May, most recently just a few weeks ago, again citing the need for more guidance from the federal and provincial governments.

In an official response, the ML&S said they are still waiting on rules from the province as well as the federal government in regard to medical marijuana dispensaries.

“The Licensing and Standards Committee deferred consideration of the item until provincial and federal legislation has been passed on medical marijuana dispensaries and the Executive Director, Municipal Licensing and Standards can report on the matter. To date we do not have any further information as to when the committee may discuss this item.”

With all that in mind, I spoke with Vaughan recently to discuss his perspectives on why Toronto is still waiting for ‘guidance’ on dispensary regs and what legalization will look like for cities. Our interview is below.

The Municipal Licensing and Standards recently announced they are again delaying their report on regulating dispensaries, saying they are still waiting for guidance from both the federal government and the province. In the past, you have stated that the city already has the power to establish these kinds of regulations.

“There are regulations that the city of Toronto drafted and passed, that I voted against, that they could amend around how to cite dispensaries. The city, in a very conservative, I would argue very aggressive way, took steps to interpret federal regulations around the licensing of dispensaries, choosing to put them only in industrial areas (438-86), only in places without storefronts, that are very, very restrictive.

“And rather than over regulate, which I think they’ve done, they could choose to regulate responsibly and more compassionately and come up with guidelines that place the distribution centres in a more accessible environment, without threatening safety or proper protocols. In choosing not to do that they have in some ways provoked dispensaries and illegal operators to take the laws into their own hand and I think it’s unnecessary.”

“Only in Toronto is this such a horrendous mess. Vancouver has found a way to find a middle ground, why can’t Toronto?” – Adam Vaughan

What are some of the first things that the city can do to start that process?

“Any councillor could write a letter to the planning and growth committee, and say they would like to review the bylaw, and bring them into a configuration that accommodates a legitimate use of marijuana for medical reasons.”

Even if these are business that are not legal by federal standards?

“If the illegal dispensaries, or the unregulated dispensaries, depending on your perspective, if those dispensaries continue to take the law into their hands, then the city would have grounds to enforce. But there are legal dispensers that find the existing rules and regulations an undue hardship, and there’s certainly prescribed users who find it unnecessary.

“There are ways of finding a middle ground on this, and certainly creating more reasonable access in the interim as we move towards a new framework for marijuana use.”

Cities like Toronto have passed zoning regulations for things like illegal massage parlours without any real pushback from the feds. Do you think there’s a reason why the city is taking this wait and see approach?

“I think there are a number of different forces at play. I think that the licensing regime was overly cautious and perhaps even overly aggressive in it’s stance on how to respond to the federal regulations. I think council was afraid to take a more progressive or proactive approach to integrating marijuana distribution into the city under a new legalizing framework.

“And then I think there are councillors who are talking out of both sides of their mouth, who on the one hand say we should legalize it immediately, and we should be proactive on harm reduction, and then they are afraid to open up the laws and bring the distribution centres closer to the communities because they’re afraid of the people who are opposed to it getting all upset.

“So they’re playing to both sides of the choir. On the one hand they’re saying ‘the Feds should make this easier to happen’ and on the other hand when it’s in their jurisdiction they’re saying ‘I’m not going to do anything about it because I don’t want to anger my constituents’.  For those folks, they can say to the activists: ‘the Feds really should legalize it faster’, and to the critics they can say ‘I’ve restricted it and not brought it to your neighbourhood’ and then turn around and point the fingers at the Feds.

“Only in Toronto is this such a horrendous mess. Vancouver has found a way to find a middle ground, why can’t Toronto?”

“It’s not rocket science. The trouble is you’ve got one group of people who are afraid of the drug, doing everything they can to be afraid of the drug, and sustain fear. And then you’ve got another group of people who pretend there’s nothing wrong with the narcotic and they have decided to take the law into their own hand.”

How do you see this resolving itself?

“I think city council is probably going to do nothing in the interim, and every time something goes wrong, find a way either take credit or blame the Feds, depending on whether it’s to their political advantage, and then wait for the new laws and regulations to come down. Those are coming down very shortly, but until then the law is the law is the law, and it’s up to the cities to enact the zoning and enforcement dynamics to safely distribute medical marijuana.”

What is your sense of when those rules and guidance from the feds and the province. as far as dispensaries go, are coming?

“I want to hear what the cities have to say. Some people in the city want us to do it immediately, but they insist on being consulted first. I’m not sure how you do both at the same time, but a lot of city politicians are playing with that inherent contradiction.

“What I know to be true is that it is either a recreational or medical dynamic that has to be addressed, or both. The way in which we manage and distribute liquor, the way we manage and distribute prescription drugs, we have two very good regimes for that, and it seems to me we just have to fit marijuana into both those regimes in a responsible way.

“The goal here is to make sure the people who need it medicinally can acquire it with the proper measurements and proper dosage and understand how to manage that themselves, if not with their medical team.

“On the other hand, for those people who want to use it socially, we need to understand how to distribute it without getting it in the hands of people who shouldn’t have it, deal with it in a responsible way, and we have a whole liquor licensing regime in place for that, and we can look at some of the ways in which that works, and some of the ways in which distribution is handled with that, and modify it to accommodate the substance in an appropriate way. It’s not rocket science.

“The trouble is you’ve got one group of people who are afraid of the drug, doing everything they can to be afraid of the drug, and sustain fear. And then you’ve got another group of people who pretend there’s nothing wrong with the narcotic and they have decided to take the law into their own hand.

“I think the trouble with the activist agenda right now is, you’re so close to the finish line, why do you want to cheat and get to the finish line quickly? Why can’t you just help us get there responsibly and come up with a good law?

“Instead what they have done is they’ve gone and provoked a problem where there wasn’t a problem, and now they’ve generated opposition, not just from people who are afraid of marijuana, but who are upset with the way in which the distribution chain has taken the law into their own hands and now they can’t be trusted.

“We’re there, we’re about to do it, it’s about to happen. Let’s just get it right, get it off the dock and then people can go about using marijuana the way they want to use it. But to test the old regime as you know a new regime is coming in and anger and upset people in the short term, I don’t understand the long term game that’s at play here but the activists can speak for themselves.”

“Work with City Hall to get responsible and reasonable regulations in place. Don’t push the envelope now as you’re this close to getting everything you need out of the government and cooperate and find a way to make this work. And, you know, participate in the democratic process. You don’t always have to fight it.”

Are you seeing a reflection of that on the ground from your own constituents?

“Yeah. You’ve got people who could care less if you smoke a joint, but they’re sick and tired of having 15 marijuana stores on the same block. Any time you put five or six in the same neighbourhood, of anything, whether it’s a strip club… dance clubs, gas stations, sushi shops… it upsets the organic balance that people need in the neighbourhood, to live in a community.

“So when in Kensington Market they’re closing green grocers to open pot shops, they’re chasing out sort of…. cheese shops or used clothing stores, to open up pot shops and change the organic mix that makes Kensington Market what it is, people get upset with this sort of hyper-capitalist approach to recreational activities. As I said, a little patience, contributions to smart regulations, and safe regulations, and all of a sudden we’ve got marijuana legalized in a way with nobody being upset.

“Instead, everybody is in a very aggressive kind of way putting their personal needs ahead of community process and upsetting people. And to what end? As I said, I don’t get what the long game is. It’s not making it happen any faster. And they’re building opposition to their cause. What’s the good in that?”

Where does pharmacy distribution of medical cannabis fit into all of that? 

“It’s an option and I think that for people who are not pursing use in a recreational context, who are instead engaged in using marijuana for legitimate medicinal reasons, part of what they want to know is the right way to ingest the drug, what’s compatible with the illness they have, what allows them to absorb and use as the pain killing or the therapeutic properties in a way that suits their needs.

“They want to know the measurements, the quality control. They want to know if it’s a pill or a cookie or whether smoking is a better way. They want to know what they’re smoking doesn’t have fungicide on it and is not artificially tainted with other bad pharmaceuticals. Not everybody is looking to get high recreationally. Some people need know exactly what they’re doing with it, to measure it, and they want to know and have a right to know as consumers, what the quantities and the strengths of the various products that are there, ready for consumption are. And they need to know they’re not putting poison into their bodies as we’ve seen out west with some of the fungicides they use trying and protect crops that are being grown.

“So there is a pharmaceutical component to this. Medical marijuana clearly has a significant and pronounced need and we have to respond to that. And just like you wouldn’t want your penicillin manufactured in a back alley, you wouldn’t want your (cannabis) done that way. And just as you don’t want some 16 year old kid that’s never been to science school to be distributing your medical dosages, you want someone’s who’s trained, who understands what happens when multiple drugs are prescribed and their intersectionalities that are present. And additionally you want to make sure that it’s stored and it’s delivered in as a safe and responsible a way as possible.

“Just the same way that we distribute virtually all other controlled substances through a pharmacy, for the medical dynamic, it may be just as important for medical marijuana, but we’re waiting to see the information presented to us through the expert opinions that are out there now. And we’ll see where that takes us.”

If you were to address dispensary owners who you feel are jumping the gun, what is a more productive approach these businesses could take to get what they want?

“Work with City Hall to get responsible and reasonable regulations in place. Don’t push the envelope now as you’re this close to getting everything you need out of the government and cooperate and find a way to make this work. And, you know, participate in the democratic process. You don’t always have to fight it.”

Article source Lift News