Routine police raids, orders to shut down, seizures of cannabis products and cash, fines, arrests, criminal charges—none of these has been enough to uproot Toronto’s vast network of unlicensed weed dispensaries. Consumer demand is just too high, and the availability of legal products too scarce, for Toronto law enforcement’s efforts to have much effect on the illicit market. In fact, Toronto police have been virtually powerless to reduce the footprint of the city’s unlicensed cannabis distributors and retailers, even as the one year anniversary of legalization approaches.
But it’s certainly not for lack of trying. And now, Toronto police are reportedly trying a new tactic to shut down unlicensed cannabis retailers. They’re using cement blocks to barricade the entrances to illegal underground “pharmacies,” in hopes customers won’t be able to enter them.
Not Even Cement Block Barricades Can Stop Illegal Dispensaries from Doing Business
Toronto law enforcement agencies have been making good on their promises to shut down and drive out the unlicensed cannabis shops operating across the city. The pace of police raids is constant. But when one shop shuts down, several others just seem to pop up in its place. Now, however, police are trying a new tactic. They’re erecting barriers between unlicensed retailers and their customers.
Toronto police are putting cement blocks in front of the entrances to unlicensed cannabis shops. But given the resilience we’ve seen from these illegal operations already, it’s hard to imagine cement blocks standing in their way. And sure enough, illicit retailers have found a workaround—literally. Retailers are simply working around the cement blocks, conducting business on the sidewalks outside the barricaded shops. Take the unlicensed dispensary CAFE, for example. Last Wednesday, police raided the shop and shut it down for illegally operating without a license. By Friday, several “budtenders” were outside the shop on the sidewalk, selling weed to eager customers.
Barricaded Cannabis Retailers Resort to Sidewalk Sales
Barricaded weed shops may not be enough to stop unlicensed retailers from satisfying consumer demand for cannabis products. But they are making the job of arresting retail operators easier for police. It’s one thing to sell unlicensed cannabis behind a closed door and a security system. It’s another to do so on the sidewalk for all to see.
After raiding and shutting down illegal dispensaries, police have been barricading storefronts with cement blocks. That’s driving unlicensed purveyors onto the streets, where they’re interfacing with customers through sidewalk sales. According to police, sidewalk sales are happening across Toronto outside recently shut-down dispensaries. They’re easy to spot because they’re attracting large crowds. Those crowds attract complaints. The complaints attract police.
In a series of tweets addressing the recent trend toward sidewalk cannabis sales, Toronto Police are urging residents not to purchase from illicit sellers, which they say support organized crime. Police also tweeted that sellers who flee sidewalk sales when officers approach are leaving behind iPads containing sensitive customer data like names, emails, financial information, and product orders.
Sidewalk sales in front of barricaded dispensaries may be the latest response of Toronto’s unlicensed marijuana market to persistent enforcement efforts. But will it be their last? In lieu of a robust accessible legal market, Canadian cannabis consumers are going to continue purchasing from unlicensed sellers. And if cement blocks won’t work to dissuade them, what will?