Here's Why Police Are Still Struggling to Close Toronto's Illicit Cannabis Dispensaries

Ontario's haphazard approach to establishing a legal market for recreational cannabis is making it difficult for Toronto officials to fight illicit operations.

More than two months after the nationwide legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, there are still at least 16 illegal cannabis dispensaries open in Toronto. Police are currently investigating these shops, and hope to "close all illegal storefronts that are found to be open and operating," but that's proving to be a "complex process involving a number of steps," according to city spokesperson Lyne Kyle.

Part of that problem is the legislative flip-flopping that has come from the province, says City Councillor Jim Karygiannis. Initially, the the province planned to open 40 government-run stores in time for legalization back in October. But when the government switched hands from the Liberals to the Conservatives, the incoming administration of Premier Doug Ford scrapped that plan in favor of establishing a private retail market from scratch.

"There's no clarity out there, and we need to provide clarity to the people operating the stores, to the people looking to get the medicinal as well as recreational cannabis," Karygiannis told CBC.

Currently, Ontarians can only buy legal weed through the province's online shop, The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS). Those who would prefer to walk into a (legal) store and actually talk to someone are out of luck until April when the province's first 25 licensed dispensaries will be allowed to open. Only five of those retail licenses will be granted to businesses looking to operate in Toronto, which is not nearly enough to meet the city's demand. That's roughly one store for every 1,185,608 people living in the Greater Toronto Area.

Compounding these issues is the fact that all of Ontario's retail licenses will be handed out via lottery. This gives current owners of illegal shops little motivation to attempt to enter the regulated market as their chances of getting a license are slim. So unless Ontario implements a way for these illicit businesses to transition into the legal market, or greatly increases the number of retail licenses they're handing out, things won't change in Toronto anytime soon.

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