Caryma Sa’d took a leap of faith and started her own law practice in April 2017. Leaving her unsatisfying Bay Street gig behind, she became interested in working with cannabis consumers and businesses, with the majority of her cases tackling landlord-tenant disputes and criminal cases related to cannabis possession or use.
One of my earliest clients is a medical patient with a license to grow cannabis. Although he was totally within his rights to grow cannabis at home, his landlord disliked him and tried to evict him on the grounds of illegal activity, interfering with others, and damages – all of which were totally unfounded. That was the first time I saw and understood how someone’s medical needs could put their housing at stake. I saw it as a very cut and dry case, but my research uncovered that this is a nuanced situation, and there are cases where an illness can put a patient at risk of losing their home.
The risk can be compounded in a city like Toronto where issues such as loss of rent control and skyrocketing rental prices make housing scarce and expensive. I became very interested in pursuing cases where I could advocate for tenant rights. Further, stats in Toronto show that people who are black or Indigenous will likely have a tougher time dealing with cannabis-related complaints from landlords or neighbours; they get more complaints which lead to inspection and further action more often.
Employment is another landmine issue for cannabis users. As cannabis conversation permeates the workforce it has, in some cases, created anxiety around job security, especially for medical patients who are now under a spotlight. Driving is also especially hairy right now, and the laws don’t consider medical patients properly. The current law is modeled after the regime we have with alcohol, but cannabis and alcohol are fundamentally different substances. A much larger issue is that the new laws allow officers to pull someone over essentially on a whim. These grey areas in the law will disproportionately affect impoverished and underemployed people and minorities.
I started this practice because I want to help people, in the broadest sense of the word. ”
I started this practice because I want to help people, in the broadest sense of the word. The dream is to someday have an army of lawyers and support staff who can do good landlord/tenant advocacy on both sides — because there’s value in being able to argue both sides of this conversation about cannabis and rights. Not every landlord is evil or money hungry, and working with condo boards to develop fair policies, for instance, is work I really enjoy.
Legalization means a huge opportunity for laying precedent, which means that we’re at the forefront of how we interpret these laws and rules, that in every case that’s brought to trial we are building test cases that the legal system will be referring to for decades to come. I’m thrilled to be part of this groundbreaking work from the beginning, because I think it’s important. It impacts so many people.
Photography by Angela Lewis
Running my own practice is a seven-day-a-week enterprise, and if I’m being honest, I have not struck a great work / life balance yet. I didn’t really consider how draining it can be when you’re dealing with other people’s problems. I want to ensure that I am at my best for my clients, and so I have to make sure that I put the ‘oxygen mask’ on myself first. Wellness becomes about building a work environment where I’m comfortable. For example I bring my cats to work with me and they hang out in the office and make friends with the neighbouring shop keepers. I keep ice cream bars in the fridge, because why not? And cannabis is part of my self-care routine and regimen, for sure. There have been times in my life where I wasn’t well, and once you see what the “bottom” looks like, you know not to go back to that place. I try to listen to my body. If it’s time for a nap the pile of paperwork can wait.
A question I often get is: should I disclose my cannabis use to my landlord, even if they didn’t ask? This is a grey area. My position is that privacy rights come into play. While these rights must be balanced against the needs of other tenants, if no problem has been raised by neighbours or the landlord in the past, I would sort of question where’s the imperative to have that conversation. On the other side, I am a big fan of frank and open discussion and transparency. But, sometimes that can backfire. Are you unnecessarily opening a can of worms? Or are you pre-empting something from happening? So you know, I could give advice in three different ways to three different people in very similar situations. It’s an annoying lawyerly phrase, but ‘it depends.’
If there is an issue raised by a neighbour or landlord, it’s always better to talk to a lawyer sooner rather than later. Where things can get tricky or extra expensive is if someone has tried to remedy the situation themselves, or has reacted by changing their locks, or writing a letter without consult, and some of those steps might actually be detrimental to their legal position in the end. So, if you have a sense that this is something that could emerge as a problem, I’d urge you to invest in a consultation with a lawyer, lay out the situation, what your concerns are, what your fears and apprehensions are, what your end goal is, and ultimately feel you are protecting yourself.
The first step official through my office is a (paid) consultation. I encourage people to come with whatever documentation they may have and give me as much of the story as possible. I can then ascertain what legal issues are at play and provide what the next steps would be. There are often cases where we can settle disputes with a simple letter. Many situations are more straightforward and less dramatic than they may seem in the moment.