If you thought the fight against unregulated cannabis sales in Ontario couldn’t get any more outlandish, you were sadly mistaken. The City of Toronto and the Toronto Police Service have begun really throwing their weight around.
I mean that literally.
Officials have resorted to placing large cement blocks in front illicit pot dispensaries throughout the city in an effort to curb the unlicensed — and therefore, illegal — sale of cannabis.
“This was an illegal storefront and we did an initial enforcement action at this location several weeks ago,” says Mark Sraga, Director, Investigation Services, Municipal Licensing, and Standards for the City of Toronto. “We employed some of our more conventional barring of entry methodologies that we use on these illegal storefronts [including changing locks and securing doors].”
“We were operating under the authority of the Provincial Cannabis Control Act, which allows us to do that,” continues Sraga. “The operators choose to ignore that. When we became aware that they appeared to be operating again, we went back and confirmed they, in fact, were selling cannabis illegally from that location. So when we went back on May 25th, we employed more significant enforcement action; that being that we placed those concrete blocks in front of the entrance to the building.”
Pressure Applied by the Premier’s Chief of Staff
The recent crackdown on unlicensed dispensaries is at least partly a result of pressure applied by Premier Doug Ford’s Chief of Staff, Dean French. The pressure applied by French was uncovered by the Globe and Mail and is based on over 100 pages of email communication and reports that the news outlet obtained through Freedom of Information.
“I expected to see pictures of people in handcuffs on CP24,” said French, in a remark that was first reported by the Toronto Star in October 2018, following legalization.
The pressure following legalization resulted in months of raids on Toronto’s roughly 100 unlicensed dispensaries — with limited success. Sellers would often be shut down, and illegally reopen, on multiple occasions. Most of the shops eventually did close, but for the dozen or so left standing, locked doors simply aren’t doing the trick. Hence the city’s recent strategy of impeding access to the shops with gigantic concrete blocks — as many as twelve have been spotted blocking one shop’s entrance.
Here’s where the story gets even sillier…
Video source: Ruptly YouTube
Anything You Can Move, We Can Move Better
If one party can place concrete blocks in front of doors using heavy-duty machinery — surprise! — another party can remove them the same way.
On June 10, footage surfaced on Reddit of three men using a backhoe to move the bricks and access an unlicensed dispensary.
“Weed shack was blocked off a few weeks ago by the city,” says the original Reddit poster. “Owners decided to take things back into their own hands. Unlicensed weed operation that has been going on for a long long time. So I guess they are going back to retrieve their merchandise.”
Bigger Issues at Play
While Sraga added that the blocks will remain at the illegal shops for the time being — and that more will be used to impede the remaining unlicensed dispensaries — it seems there are some overlooked reasons why illegal cannabis is still thriving.
“Many, many cannabis consumers claim the vast majority of legal flower available is nowhere near the standard and quality of that available on the illicit market,” says Jesse B. Staniforth, of Leafly.
In addition to concerns around quality, cannabis found on the black market is often much cheaper than what’s provided by the province’s licensed producers and sellers. And as for medicinal cannabis users who are without fixed addresses, internet access, or credit cards, it’s easier to purchase cannabis through an unlicensed dispensary than through regulated channels.
Until these bigger issues are addressed, don’t expect to see illegal cannabis sales in Ontario disappear completely — no matter how big the concrete block.
Featured image source: CBC.ca
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