Illegal cannabis shops hard to weed out in the Big Smoke

By ERIK TANNER ONTARIO, Toronto – At 9:30 am on July 9, about 13 Toronto police officers descended on unlicensed

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By ERIK TANNER

ONTARIO, Toronto – At 9:30 am on July 9, about 13 Toronto police officers descended on unlicensed pot shop operator CAFE (Cannabis and Fine Edibles) in the city’s west end with a flatbed truck carrying more than a dozen large concrete barriers. The plan was to barricade the shop to make it physically impossible to get in.

This is a new tactic being used by the city to make sure that illegal shops stay closed. Issuing tickets and fines to illegal pot shop operators has failed to keep them closed for long. City bylaw officers say there are currently 12 illegal dispensaries operating in T.O., down from 90 last year. (They don’t call Toronto the Big Smoke for nothing.)

The new tactic, however, didn’t pan out as expected. The mechanical arm used to lift the concrete barriers into place was unable to negotiate the street’s overhead wire. The store remained closed for the day, but was open for business the following morning.

According to locals, the customer service is most excellent, too. When a CAFE shop has been ordered closed in the past, its patrons have been provided transportation to other CAFE locations around town in “fancy black SUVs,” according to one patron I interviewed.

It’s a matter of supply and demand. Right now, Toronto has five licensed cannabis shops. CAFE has four locations in the city.

Toronto bylaw enforcement director Mark Sraga is frustrated.

“We know they are not going to close up and go away, because they have done it in other locations where we’ve done closure orders and barring of entry. There’s too much money in this.”

But Sraga says, “We are making tremendous progress on the issue of compliance. And hopefully in the near future, when the new provincially licensed stores start opening that will help.

“These people are selling illegal product,” he continues. “They are selling both edibles as well as dried cannabis. People don’t know what they are consuming. They have no idea.”

Sraga suspects “that there is a criminal element behind this if you look at the kind of revenue this kind of operation is making. This simply just can’t be allowed to carry on in the city.”

Yet they do. A day after police erected concrete barriers at a second CAFE location, the owner brought in his own heavy machinery to remove them.