Hamilton police were on the defensive a day after Premier Doug Ford called out the city for “not doing enough” when it came to illegal pot shops.
In front of the press on Monday, Ford claimed the city had “50 some odd pot stores.” However, Hamilton Police Services Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella says that according to police data, only 12 illegal dispensaries remain in the city.
Kinsella says deterring participation in illegal dispensaries is tough since the rule of law does not allow them to simply walk into a store and shut it down for not having a cannabis licence.
“It’s much more complicated than that. If it was that easy, we would have them all shutdown,” said Kinsella. “We’ve been working together with our provincial counterparts in a team approach to make sure that we do it properly, make sure what we do stands up in front of the courts.”
LISTEN: Bill Kelly talks to Deputy Dan Kinsella of Hamilton Police Services about the process of shutting down illegal dispensaries in Hamilton
Kinsella says it takes about two days of surveillance and information gathering to write an application to obtain a search warrant, and even after closing a store with a warrant, there is not a guarantee that it will remain closed.
“Basically, this is a cost-reward business that they’re in, and if the courts are going to be delivering penalties like peace bonds and small dollar fines, it’s just worth their while to keep going and keep getting back into the business.”
At present, Hamilton police say there are over 100 charges before the courts and 18 operations locked down in their battle against illegal dispensaries.
Meanwhile, Jack Lloyd, a lawyer who represents hundreds of Hamilton medical marijuana patients, says the dispensary conflict in the city is a problem of the provincial government’s making.
“At its core, the main issue is the ability for sick people to access their medicine,” said Lloyd, referring to a current lack of product in the rollout of legalized cannabis. “There was a court ruling in August of 2017 in Hamilton that urgent enforcement priorities do not trump patient access rights.”
LISTEN: Jack Lloyd, a lawyer representing patients for access to medical marijuana
Lloyd is referring to a decision made by Thomas Lofchik of the Superior Court of Justice that allowed a downtown dispensary to remain open to sell marijuana and related products to anyone with a prescription.
However, in late 2017, Queen’s Park passed the Ontario Provincial Cannabis Control Act, which included a section allowing police forces around the province the right to close shops in contravention of regulations.
Lloyd believes the City of Hamilton has the ability, under the law, to solve the problem by issuing business licensing for medical marijuana, arguing the Superior Court ruling should trump provincial legislation.
“I think this (provincial) government created this problem, and the City of Hamilton can solve (it) if they wish to do so,” said Lloyd. “The City of Hamilton, in my view, would be entirely justified to issue business licensing for medical cannabis dispensaries and advise police to leave those licensees alone.”
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