'Doomed to fail': Toronto pot industry reacts to government's new framework
Under the pot plan, the government will shut down illegal dispensaries
Local advocates and owners of marijuana stores are wasting no time decrying the Ontario government's announcement of a framework to manage the sale and use of marijuana.
The framework includes an online ordering service and roughly 150 stand-alone stores to be opened across the province by 2020. The province has also proposed a minimum age of 19 to use, purchase and possess recreational cannabis.
The pot plan has sparked sharp criticism, including from marijuana activist and dispensary owner Jodie Emery, who says those who have fought for legalization the hardest are now taking the biggest hit.
"This is nothing more than a government attempt to monopolize an industry that they fought against for decades," she said. "If this Ontario government introduces their model the way it's being presented today we will see the black market continue to exist by their own policy."
Emery was arrested along with her husband, Marc Emery, Canada's self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," six months ago. While the couple remained in custody, police raided several of their Cannabis Culture pot shops in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver.
"We will see that police continue to get hundreds of millions of dollars, waste it on law enforcement, instead of going towards real crisis and crimes like rape and murder and theft and fraud," she said. "We're going to see tens of thousands of peaceful Canadians continue to be saddled with criminal records."
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said Friday morning that one of the government's main goals will be to stop the sale of "illegal, unregulated and unsafe cannabis."
That means that illegal pot shops in Ontario will be shut down, with the province pursuing a co-ordinated strategy with local police forces, the OPP and the federal government.
"If you operate one of these facilities, consider yourself on notice," Naqvi said.
Tania Cyalume, who co-owned Queens of Cannabis, had her dispensary shut down by her landlord eight months ago after facing pressure from the city. She said cannabis sellers like herself have been burned by the government before and are prepared to "roll with the punches."
She now runs Bloom High Tea Social Club, an organization that runs pop-up events and helps access medical cannabis for patients.
"Next year when legalization happens and you're not buying your pot from legal stores and you're going to buy it from your regular dealer, when you're caught with a gram of non-controlled substance it's going to mean going to jail for a gram of weed," she said.
No change in policing
Toronto Police say there will be no change in their policing as a result of the plan that was unveiled Friday.
"We have been enforcing the law and we will continue to enforce the law," said Mark Pugash, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service.
Cyalume says she isn't worried about the government cracking down on her operations because they simply "do not have enough manpower to shut people down."
Abi Roach, owner of the Toronto marijuana cafes Roach-O-Rama and Hotbox Café in Kensington Market, says the province's framework is "almost doomed to fail."
"The government has misread the customer. They don't understand that the cannabis consumer has a palate now for extracts, for edibles," she said. "The industry is so much bigger under the surface than what they think it is. They're in for a huge shock."
Roach says before the raids, Toronto had around 150 dispensaries with lineups outside their doors, adding that the cannabis shops that are expected to serve all of Ontario just won't cut it.
"Your lineups are going to be ridiculous. People are not going to stand in line for four hours to get low grade legal cannabis, when they can call their regular drug dealer that they've been calling for 20 years," she said.
"I believe it's going to take them two years to hire the right personnel to run these places ... to make customers happy enough to come back again."
Outside of Canna Clinic dispensary in Chinatown, users had mixed reactions to the new framework.
"I think it's completely unreasonable," said Daniel Tumpane.
"The LCBO system was too restrictive ... Now they're going to sell beer in grocery stores. It makes no sense for them to turn around and use the same system to control cannabis. How are you allowing private sellers to sell booze but not cannabis?"
Adrienne Hamilton said the legalization will be a major cultural shift.
"I liked the idea that the entrepreneur could have an opportunity. It kind of bothers me the government wants to get their hand in on that. There was a lot of room for small businesses and a lot of growth in that area, so I think it's unfortunate," she said.