Proposed amendments to Ontario’s Cannabis Control Act could bolster efforts to dislodge drug dealers from residential buildings. To date, police have not had the authority to immediately shut down and eject occupants of dwelling units where unlicensed cannabis sales/distribution occurs or where people younger than 19 use, sell/distribute or cultivate cannabis. That’s set to change as part of Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, introduced in the Ontario legislature on May 2.
The omnibus legislation amends 13 provincial statutes, focusing extensively on the planning and environmental approvals process and other administrative criteria related to housing development. Tweaks to cannabis control rules pertain to safety and quality of life in existing residential buildings and neighbourhoods.
“The amendments address situations where landlords knowingly allow tenants to run drug-dealing operations out of rental properties. Those landlords are typically small landlords who are aiding and abetting the operation,” says Joe Hoffer, a specialist in residential tenancy and municipal law with Cohen Highley LLP. “Most professional landlords, particularly in a relatively robust rental market, will be delighted to have the police evict their drug-dealing tenants and free the unit up for re-rental.”
The proposed amendments would repeal two sections of the Act that prohibit closure of residential properties. With this reversal, the police or other designated officials could exercise the same authority they already have to lock down commercial, industrial or institutional properties in the course of laying cannabis-related charges.
Occupants of single-family housing or apartments in multi-residential rental and condominium buildings could be barred from entry until the completion of legal proceedings, although they would have the ability to apply to the court and post a cash bond to regain access. Following a conviction that confirms a dwelling has been a venue for unlawful sales/distribution of cannabis, it could be closed for up to two years.
However, the Act allows “any person who has an interest in the premises” to regain access if they meet the court’s conditions and pay a cash bond. A new owner taking possession of the property, or a landlord who has leased or will be leasing to a new tenant, could also apply to the court to have a closure order overturned.
The proposed amendments could offer incidental support, but won’t likely to be the most effective means to control other nuisance scenarios. Even if neighbours have convincing grounds to suspect the presence of cannabis purchased from unlicensed sources and/or underage possession in fraternity/sorority houses or short-term rental properties, the evidence may not be easily detectable. If it’s a lawful quantity to possess, occupants don’t have to account for the origin or ownership of cannabis on the premises.
“When accusing a holder of cannabis of having purchased from an unauthorized supplier, the police and the Crown have the burden of proof,” Hoffer advises. “There really is no leverage with these amendments that will allow condo corps to deal with Airbnb issues because there is generally no direct link between Airbnb and people illegally distributing or selling cannabis.”
He suggests regulators are primarily targeting illicit cannabis-related businesses rather than cannabis users’ behaviour.
“In my view, the main purpose for the ability to bar access to a dwelling unit is to shut down dwelling units that are consistently in use for unlawful purposes, such as gang premises or grow ops,” Hoffer says. “In my view, there is no downside for professional landlords. The only downside is for landlords who turn a blind eye to drug dealers.”
For landlords who run afoul of the law, other proposed amendments would set a minimum threshold for fines. Currently, a first-time conviction for knowingly permitting unlawful cannabis retailing or distribution to occur on-site is subject to a maximum fine of $250,000, while subsequent convictions could come at cost of up to $100,000 per day that the offence occurs. Those caps would remain, but with a new assurance that fines could not be lower than $10,000 for a first conviction and $5,000 per day for each day of the offence under a subsequent conviction.
Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.