Exploring the “grey area” of medical marijuana dispensaries
A Toronto mother of three has opened up a medical marijuana shop on Parkdale’s main strip on Queen Street West and a passer-by wouldn’t even know it.
Nestled between a flower shop and a bar, The Calyx Wellness Centre has no enlarged marijuana leaf emblazoned on the store front, its name isn’t a play on words associated with weed and there’s no neon lights; the go-to marketing designs for dispensaries.
Instead store owner Danielle, who requested to not have her last name published, went a different route and focused on the importance of discretion.
“I don’t feel like it should be exposed. It’s still not widely accepted. It’s a gray area. There’s also quite a bit of a stigma to it. So it was important to me, when branding this that even our symbol, the calyx, resembles something you would see at a holistic centre,” Danielle told The Parkdale Villager.
“We’re not about being out there and bringing in the most business. There’s something to being discreet and quiet. A lot of people may be taking medical marijuana for whatever reason but they don’t want everybody to know.”
The Calyx Wellness Centre opened in late October 2015 and since then has taken in roughly 153 patients, with more showing up daily, she said. Those who are aware of her shop require a legitimate doctor’s note and prescription to purchase the medical marijuana. It’s also a membership-only dispensary. No card, no entry is her policy, and patients also have to be 25 years of age or older to be a member.
Danielle’s aspiration for the clinic is for it to become a complete holistic centre with a serene feel with the potential to refer patients to acupuncturists and even offer cooking with cannabis classes.
Although competition is stiff, with more than 50 dispensaries scattered around the city, she’s hoping her branding will set her apart from the others. The design is bright and light with air tight security.
“When you walk in you feel like you’re walking into a spa,” Danielle explained.
Many of the clientele come from the Parkdale area; however, patients come from other neighbourhoods. In Parkdale alone, three dispensaries have popped up on Queen Street West between King Street and Elm Grove Avenue in the past five months.
The Parkdale Village Business Improvement Area has been dealing with some community concerns, said Anna Bartula its executive director.
“The impression is that it’s not a positive business image. There are also a lot of misconceptions that people will be selling drugs and there’ll be line ups… there were also questions about what if there’s a robbery. There were concerns about it being a targeted part of the street.”
The community also brought forward concerns of loitering and the type of clientele dispensaries would bring to the neighbourhood. But who comes to the business is not up to the BIA, Bartula said.
“It’s such a new business and nothing like this has been in our neighbourhood before. As a BIA, I feel like we’re in a gray area. They’re like any other business and we treat them as such,” Bartula explained.
Over in Fort York, cannabis dispensary We Leaf opened at the bottom of the LTD Condos on Bruyeres Mews. The overall sentiment towards this dispensary seems to be different from those in Parkdale.
“It’s neither good nor bad. The marijuana culture, the weed culture is not actually anything harmful to a lot of people,” said Fort York resident Ryan Myal.
“It’s something that Canadians are very open to. It’s even something the federal government is considering decriminalizing and regulating and I think there are some good things that could come of it too. It’s additional revenue they (the government) have and it could go a long way to supporting infrastructure in the city.”
From the city’s point of view, there is no bylaw that permits dispensaries in the city. According to Richard Mucha, acting director of Licensing Services at the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department, the city only looks at the land use of where the business is operating and if it’s in compliance.
“If the primary use is a doctor’s office then we can check and see if that’s being done. Our only responsibility is land use. And if these properties come to our attention we’ll investigate them as we would any other land use concerns,” Mucha said.
“The dispensing of marijuana, medical or otherwise, is a matter for Toronto Police Service or Health Canada.”
The legalization and regulation of marijuana has not yet been adopted by any level of government in Ontario, therefore these dispensaries are technically operating illegally according to the City of Toronto, Toronto police and Health Canada.
There are only a select few dispensaries, authorized by Health Canada to distribute marijuana by mail to those with verified prescriptions. According to Health Canada’s website, it states neither Health Canada nor the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) authorize licensed producers to provide marijuana for medical purposes through a storefront.
So how can they continue to run? The simple answer is they just do, but not without watchful eyes.
“The people who are doing it are committing civil disobedience. They’re breaking a law that’s unjust that our federal government is committed to changing somehow… Yes, it’s illegal but it’s the right thing to do,” said Jamie Shaw, the president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries in Vancouver.
“It’s a tricky thing. Is it wrong to break an unjust law? That’s where the crux of the issue really comes down to. People are using it for medical reasons. That’s exactly what’s led to all of this in the first place.”
Originally, Shaw said, medical dispensaries opened to help patients find relief from HIV and cancer treatments.
“…These people are suffering the most and we need to do something about that right now,” she added.
Danielle’s patients who come in to her dispensary in Parkdale, suffer from a wide range of medical issues, such as arthritis, AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and diabetes. The most common problem among her clients is epilepsy and back pain, she said.
The Parkdale community has its fair share of residents who need Calyx’s services, according to the BIA’s executive director, and it’s safer than using alcohol in her opinion.
“Alcohol is much more dangerous than a clinically monitored approach to a holistic medicine. People who use this suffer from grave illnesses, whether it’s epilepsy or cancer. These are serious things, not recreational,” Bartula said.
“I think being in a community that offers a lot of resources to individuals struggling with different health obstacles, it makes sense for it to be here. I’m surprised it didn’t come sooner.”