On the same day that a handful of legal marijuana shops opened up across Ontario, Premier Doug Ford singled out one city for being too lenient when it comes to stamping out the black market.
During a conference on Monday to announce the scrapping of Drive Clean Tests, Ford not only railed against the newly-implemented carbon tax, but vented his frustration with the city of Hamilton for allowing illegal marijuana shops to “pop up like mushrooms.”
“My biggest frustration to be very frank is Hamilton,” the premier said. “Hamilton, last time I checked they had 50 some odd pot stores out there. Who is doing anything about it? I can tell you one thing, if one convenience store ever put alcohol in their store they would be closed down in an hour.
“They are illegal,” Ford stressed. “There’s been more than enough warning.
“The question to Hamilton: Why are you turning your head on this?”
Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman countered, saying officers have been actively working to combat the black market, shutting down 29 illegal dispensaries since marijuana became legal on October 17, 2018.
She also refuted Ford’s claim that “50 some odd” pot stores are operating in the city.
“We currently have 12 illegal cannabis dispensaries in Hamilton and there are two legal stores set to open around April 20,” she said in an email to CityNews. “We have been working closely with the Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team to enforce the new legislation.
“We know this process will take time but we are dedicated to investigating and apprehending those individuals and businesses who are producing, selling and importing cannabis outside of the law.”
Penman put some of the onus on the courts to dole out punishments harsh enough to act as deterrents.
“It’s now up to the courts on how to proceed,” she wrote. “We hope the appropriate fines are levied in order to discourage those individuals and businesses who are operating outside of the legal framework.”
On Monday, 25 legal marijuana shops were slated to open across Ontario, with five in Toronto. But paperwork delays saw just 10 open, with just one selling legal weed in Toronto on day one.
Ford said he was hopeful most of the stores would open in the coming weeks.
“Some didn’t fill their paper work out, some it’s taking a bit longer, but I think over the next couple weeks we will get it done.”
Hamilton isn’t alone when it comes to the challenges posed by the black market. Toronto police have struggled to stay on top of illegal dispensaries, some of which reopen shortly after being raided by police.
The Ontario government’s Cannabis Control Act includes hefty fines for illegal operators and landlords, seizure authority, and the ability to shut down a property, but Mark Sraga, director of investigation services for Toronto’s licensing department, told CityNews many illegal weed shop owners brazenly flout the law.
“We’ve had property owners or operators going in and breaking the locks and reopening the very next day in some instances,” he said in late March.
Sraga said the City of Toronto is determined to weaken the black market.
“We have developed a more aggressive enforcement schedule going forward … we will be taking more enforcement actions that will be seen publicly. We will be as aggressive as we can be with the rules and the laws that we have to work with.”
The city of Toronto currently has six bylaw officers dedicated solely to illegal cannabis storefronts.