Canadian police have gone to great lengths to shut down dozens of illegal cannabis stores all across Toronto — even going as far as barricading them with concrete blocks — but these illicit enterprises always seem to bounce right back into the game.
This weekend, two of the city's remaining unlicensed stores, Weedora and Cannabis & Coffee, began offering customers $100 vouchers for free weed starting at “high noon” on Saturday. In total, the businesses promised to hand out $200,000 worth of free pot.
Chris James, owner of these shops, told CBC News that his goal was not just to advertise his business, but also to draw attention to the plight of unlicensed pot shops like his own. James decided to get into the weed business last year, when newly elected Premier Doug Ford decided to allow private weed stores to coexist with government-operated weed retailers.
Initially, the Ford administration announced that any private business that passed the application process would be allowed to open their own pot shop. Hundreds of entrepreneurs rushed to make serious investments in buying and building out retail spaces that would comply with the province's strict adult-use retail regulations. But in January, the government announced they were limiting the total number of licenses to 25, and awarding these licenses via a lottery.
This sudden change of plan left hundreds of entrepreneurs unable to open the businesses they had started building. Faced with extreme financial losses, James and many of his fellows chose to open their doors without a license. "We keep hearing about a supply shortage [and] that's why there's no more stores being opened,” James told CBC News. “If there's a supply shortage, there's thousands of growers that the government authorized to be medical growers that should be allowed to grow for recreational people as well."
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Shut out of the legal weed retail market, James is hoping to get a license for a weed delivery service, but at this time, Ontario’s government weed store is the only retailer allowed to deliver weed.
"The government should allow delivery services because people would prefer to have it delivered to their homes," said James to the CBC. "A dispensary is not the preferred model for the actual customer. The actual preferred model is a delivery service. People would rather have it delivered in 30 minutes or less like pizza."
Although Weedora and several other illegal pot shops opened their doors again this weekend, Toronto Mayor John Tory still counts the city's crackdown on unlicensed stores a success. "Well, if you think of the fact that we used to have a hundred plus illegal shops and we're down to a handful now, I think it is working," Tory told CBC News. "Whether people are giving it away, whether they're selling it in a tent, whether they are open late at night or early in the morning, it's against the law. If you have a shop that is not licensed, this is against the law.”