05/24/2016 03:21 EDT | Updated 05/25/2017 05:12 EDT

The Simple Reason Behind Toronto's Marijuana Dispensary Crackdown

Richard Lautens via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - APRIL, 28 The Queens of Cannabis has been open for 2 months in the Bloor and Ossington area and is one of the dozens of medical pot dispensaries that has caught Toronto off-guard. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" goes the old joke, with the obvious answer being, "to get to the other side." Sadly, not all of life's questions have such simple and obvious answers.

We recently learned that the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, sent a letter to the Licensing and Standards department asking them to "study and make recommendations" on regulating medicinal cannabis dispensaries in Toronto. This came just a day after Mayor Tory visited a dispensary himself to get a first hand look at the operation.

So, why did the mayor visit and ask city officials to "study" this, and then immediately begin issuing warning letters from Licensing and Toronto Police ahead of any report -- all ahead of even letting the standards committee to weigh in on the issue? I wish the answer were simple.

We learned yesterday that Cannabis Canada, the trade association that represents Canada's Licensed Producers of medical marijuana, has been lobbying the city quite extensively. But these efforts have been ongoing now for some time -- why the urgency to crack down now? Again, the answer is not as simple as we'd like it to be.

Cannabis Canada has been providing any media outlet who asks with the following "facts:"

"The legal pot industry got its start in 2014, when Ottawa introduced legislation requiring medical marijuana patients had to buy their product from licensed producers. There are currently 31 companies with licenses, 18 of which are in Ontario."

The truth is that the legal pot industry started long before 2014. It started in 2001 when Health Canada instituted the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) which was replaced by the current Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) regulations. MMAR licenses are still legally recognized as valid due to ongoing litigation, most recently the Allard decision.

The Allard Decision

On Feb. 24, 2016, Justice Phelan of the Federal Court of Canada in B.C. released his decision on the Charter challenge commonly referred to as "The Allard Decision." Justice Phelan concluded as follows:

"The Plaintiffs' liberty and security interest are engaged by the access restrictions imposed by the MMPR and that the access restrictions have not been proven to be in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

About dispensaries, the Court says the following;

"Although dispensaries were not a focus of the parties' submissions, I find Ms. Shaw's evidence to be extremely important as dispensaries are at the heart of cannabis access."

Justice Phelan in his ruling gave Health Canada and the Government of Canada six months to replace MMPR regulations or amend existing MMPR regulations to fall in line with his findings. On March 24 2016, the health minister announced that the government would NOT appeal the decision.

So, here we stand with current regulation being deemed unconstitutional, with new regulations expected to be unveiled by Aug. 24, 2016 and the Mayor of Toronto is asking staff and Toronto Police to enforce an unjust law. The law, the regulations for medicinal marijuana, are still in force until such time as the new regulations are in place, mind you -- they are legally defensible, just not morally so.

The law is fluid, and what is legal one day may be illegal the next or vice versa. What does not change is right and wrong, justice and injustice. Sometimes it takes society a very long time to recognize an injustice. Once an injustice is recognized, defence of what was "legal" prior to a determination of justice is morally reprehensible.

So Cannabis Canada lobbies the mayor, the law is only in force until August (when it's likely access to medical marijuana will expand beyond the current MMPR mail-order) and a 1,000-per-cent markup model will be instituted. The 31 licensed producers are worried about competition, as many hundreds of millions of dollars in future business are at stake -- billions once a legal recreational model is brought in.

So, why did the Mayor cross the road? Why is he asking city staff and police to enforce a law that has been deemed unconstitutional? Why is he not recognizing the authority of the Supreme Court or his duty to uphold the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

The money, of course. It was simple after all.

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