03/13/2013 12:52 EDT

New Age Medical Clinic To Be Toronto's First Marijuana Dispensary


A Toronto entrepreneur who gamed fame several years ago by lighting up a joint in Parliament plans to open Toronto’s first storefront marijuana dispensary this week.

And he plans to open more clinics-slash-dispensaries around the city in the future.

Sam Mellace told the Toronto Star his clinic will be a one-stop shop for legal weed, with doctors’ offices upstairs where patients will go for weed prescriptions, and a street-front dispensary downstairs selling marijuana grown on location.

He says he plans to take advantage of new medical marijuana rules to make his stores possible.

Mellace's New Age Medical Clinic, in Toronto’s lively Danforth neighbourhood, bills itself as being “dedicated to providing harm reduction services for Canada’s increasing pharmaceutically dependent population.”

“What we’re trying to do is build up the clientele and try to get as many people as we can help off of the opiate addictions,” Mellace told the Star.

Mellace is dedicating the official opening of the clinic to late NDP Leader Jack Layton, with whom the clinic owner had met and who he says “agreed with our non-addictive alternative approach to managing pain and addiction.”

He’s counting on changes to Health Canada’s rules on medicinal marijuana to make his pot shop possible. The federal government announced new regulations earlier this year that will see the agency step away from production of marijuana in favour of licencing private marijuana growers.

The new rules have proven controversial, in part because they remove the ability of medical marijuana patients to grow their own pot. Currently, more than 28,000 licenced users have the legal right to grow weed.

The Canadian Medical Association came out against the new rules, arguing the government was abdicating its responsibility as a regulator of marijuana.

"There's huge potential for harm to patients and the federal government's decision is equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded," CMA President Anna Reid said.

But the government argues that licencing some 28,000 users has grown unwieldy and offers too many opportunities to use the licence as a front for illegal grow ops.

"We have heard real concerns from law enforcement, fire officials and municipalities about how people are hiding behind these rules to conduct illegal activity," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a release.

Mellace believes the new rules will now make it possible for licenced growers to open retail operations. He estimates he will distribute 45 kilograms of weed per month from his Danforth location, and says he has “two doctors’ offices ready to go.”

But his website indicates the clinic is still looking for doctors. That may prove to be a challenge, as some reports suggest many doctors are wary of writing marijuana prescriptions because they aren’t familiar with the drug and its effects.

So far, the new licences to operate privately-owned marijuana grow-ops aren’t available; Mellace plans to apply for one as soon as they are. In the meantime, the clinic will help patients apply for medical marijuana permits, the Star reported.

Mellace gained fame in 2010 when he lit up a joint in Parliament, to protest federal rules that prevented people from ingesting medical marijuana in forms other than smoking.

He said he managed to take seven or eight tokes before a security guard came up to him and asked him to put it out. He was not arrested or escorted off the premises.

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