Pubdate: Mon, 06 Nov 2017
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Chris Doucette
Pages: 4-5


Small pot shops know their days are numbered

The fix is in and it's only a matter of time until the city's
marijuana dispensaries are forced out of business by the new pusher in
town - the Ontario government.

New legislation unveiled last week - as the province prepares to open
150 marijuana stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario -
includes hefty fines and jail time for selling weed illegally once the
federal government legalizes cannabis in July, 2018.

The message has left pot shop owners and employees - who have been the
tip of the spear in the legalization fight - acutely aware their days
of selling from a storefront are numbered.

"I believe in what I'm doing and I'll keep fighting as long as I can,
but I think this will eventually push us all out business," a
dispensary owner, who asked not to be identified, told the Toronto

Although he knows it's inevitable cops will shut him down, he'd like
to keep his lucrative business going as long as possible. And he was
concerned speaking out publicly might get his pot shops targeted
sooner rather than later.

Store employees, media, and supporters are seen outside the Cannabis
Culture store on Church St. during a police raid in Toronto on
Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Premier Kathleen Wynne made it clear shuttering dispensaries was a
major component of the new legislation. Individuals such as dispensary
staff - some of whom have health issues and work in shops to get a
discount on their medicine - will face a maximum $250,000 fine and up
to two years in jail for running afoul of the government's rules.

Corporations - which could include dispensary owners - will face fines
of up to $1 million.

"I don't know anyone who can pay $250,000, let alone $1 million," the
dispensary owner said. "The government is putting a lot of people out
of work, leaving them unable to afford their medicine and potentially
ruining lives."

The new bill also enables cops to immediately close shops illegally
selling marijuana.

Toronto Police were reluctant to comment on the increased firepower
being added to their enforcement arsenal.

"We have been enforcing the law and will continue to do so," spokesman
Mark Pugash said. "And we welcome anything that helps us with that

Dispensaries spread like wildfire after Justin Trudeau was elected
prime minister in 2015 with a vow to legalize cannabis for
recreational use. More than 80 pot shops had sprung up in Toronto by
the time cops began cracking down on the illegal businesses in May
2016 with Project Claudia, raiding 43 stores and arresting 90 people.

It was a costly endeavour that saw some shops close but many re-opened
within days. And by July 2017, charges had been withdrawn against 72
of the accused.

Despite the lack of success, police have continued to raid pot shops
almost weekly.

The dispensary owner we spoke to said it's unfortunate the province
chose not to include those already in the business when developing
plans to roll out its new cannabis stores.

"I think these stores will be a big hit when they launch, but they're
not going to be able to sustain that buzz," he said, predicting
patrons will tire of inferior pot and return to buying from "their guy
(or gal)" who offers higher quality and wider variety.

Those currently in the business will continue to sell, albeit in the
shadows, and "the black market will thrive," he said.

He found it laughable that Wynne, when was asked about the
government's pot pricing during her announcement, claimed it "actually
isn't about money."

"This is all about money," he said. "The government, former
politicians and ex-cops are all chasing the dollar."
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