Toronto officials are now using giant concrete slabs to block entry to illicit dispensaries.
The move comes as Toronto officials continue to have difficulty culling the remainder of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in the city. Despite numerous police raids on illegal shops in recent years, many still remain open. Now law enforcers are resorting to extreme measures, such as stacking concrete blocks in front of illicit shops to prevent people from entering. Strange as that tactic sounds, it actually works, according to Mark Sraga - Toronto's director of investigation services for municipal licensing standards.
"This has proven to be a bit more of a substantial tactic," Sraga told CBC.
But, the city's concrete barricades aren't without their detractors. As criminal defense lawyer Kendra Stanyon said, some of these dispensaries also double as living spaces and she's concerned that barring entry to these establishments could leave people homeless. That situation has has prevented police from shutting down the shops entirely because of a stipulation in Ontario's Cannabis Control Act that prevents authorities from removing people from, or barring access to, dispensaries that are also residences.
That will change soon though, as the Ontario Legislature recently passed a bill that would close what some are calling a loophole in Ontario's legal cannabis system. Though this move also comes with criticisms.
"We have some concerns on what this will mean for families," NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Jeff Burch. "Cannabis is currently legal, and while the illegal sale of cannabis should be prohibited, giving the ability for a family to be expelled from their home because a family member—or worse, a visitor—engages in an illegal activity is unthinkable."
But Sraga has argued that many of the people who are claiming to live inside their dispensaries are simply doing so to avoid criminal prosecution and not because it is their actual place of residence.
"Going forward, a residential property that's being used to sell cannabis illegally, we will also be able to doing barring of entry at those places," said Sraga.
Still, Stanyon isn't convinced that barring entry to these shops is an effective means of killing the black market. Instead, she suggests officials focus on increasing the availability of legal shopping options in the city.
"There is such a shortage online and in stores for legal marijuana that, setting aside issues of quality...the demand is still very huge for the black market."
And seeing as Canada's largest city has only licensed a total of five legal dispensaries—and some of them aren't even open yet—it's no surprise the illicit market continues to thrive.