City pushing for closure of 21 illegal cannabis shops

By-law enforcement officers are continuing to investigate 21 “suspected illegal cannabis storefronts” in Toronto, city officials said Wednesday. 

A total of nine officers from Toronto’s Municipal Standards and Licensing department are assigned to probe individual locations, issue closure orders and seize cannabis products and money, the city said in a news release. 

In the six months since pot was legalized in Canada, Toronto officials have laid 41 charges related to the operation of illicit shops. 

“We are staffed and prepared to continue this enforcement,” said Mark Sraga, director of investigative services at the city.

The most recent raid was on Tuesday at a popular location on Fort York Boulevard. Sraga’s team had already been there several days earlier. Overnight Monday, however, staff at the dispensary were able to get back into the premises and reopen the shop by Tuesday morning. 

Sraga then had a metal door installed to make it more difficult for employees at the location to get back in. 

Maximum penalties for people charged under the provincial Cannabis Control Act include a fine of up to $250,000 and two years in prison. Meanwhile, corporations can face a fine of up to $1 million. Ultimately, it is up to a court to levy the fines. 

Despite the potential for steep financial penalties, some shops continue to reopen after being shut down.

“We’ve had a couple of operators who have been repeatedly, defiantly reopening despite our barring of the entry to the premises,” Sraga said

“The amount of profit that these operations are making, they aren’t just going to close up and go away with the marketplace the way it is right now — with not enough legal storefronts available to service the population,” he continued. 

When cannabis became legal in October of last year, Toronto police had closed all but about 12 illicit retail locations in the city. After the provincial government announced that only 25 licensed brick-and-mortar stores would open province-wide come April 1, however, the number of illegal shops ballooned to 32, according to Sraga.

He said that his team will be pursuing enforcement actions against landlords who allow their properties to be used for illegal storefronts. 

“We will be charging them and holding them equally responsible,” Sraga continued. “We are going to be utilizing every tool that we can to achieve full compliance with the provincial statute.”