Hamilton

Ford slams Hamilton's illegal pot shops as 'biggest frustration' about legalization

The city's inability to fully shut down illegal storefront cannabis dispensaries in Hamilton is Premier Doug Ford's "biggest frustration" when it comes to legalization in the province.

Premier's comments come on the day legal storefront dispensaries open in Ontario

Premier Doug Ford criticized Hamilton's response to illegal storefront dispensaries when took questions from reporters in Etobicoke Monday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his "biggest frustration" when it comes to cannabis legalization in the province is Hamilton's failure to fully shut down illegal storefront dispensaries.

"Hamilton, the last time I checked, they had 50 some odd pot stores out there, who's doing anything about it?" Ford said at a Monday morning media availability in Etobicoke.

"My question to local governments like Hamilton — why aren't you closing these pot shops down? … They're illegal. You want revenues? Close them down, fine the landlords a million dollars," he said.

"We can't have a black market making hundreds of thousands of dollars if you add up all these illegal pot stores. It drives me absolutely crazy. The question to Hamilton — why are you turning your head on this? We need to start closing them all down."

Hamilton police and the city's bylaw department are in the midst of an ongoing battle to shut down illegal cannabis dispensaries. At one point there were more than 80 open for business across the city. Most operated five to seven days a week, and on a good day brought in $80,000, a local cannabis consultant says.

That windfall, police say, is a big reason dispensaries just reopen or pop up elsewhere after police shut them down.

No legal dispensaries open yet in Hamilton

In response to the premier's comments, Hamilton police spokesperson Jackie Penman said that since legalization happened last October, police have shut down 29 illegal dispensaries in Hamilton.

"We remain strongly committed to working with all legal means and our partners to close illegal dispensaries," she said in a statement.

Dozens of customers lined up outside RELM Cannabis Co. in Burlington Monday as the province's first legal cannabis stores opened their doors. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Currently, police say, there are 12 illegal dispensaries operating in Hamilton.

"There are currently no legal dispensaries within the City of Hamilton that are authorized to sell cannabis or cannabis-based products," Penman said.

Though the province is allowing licences for 25 stores, only nine were able to open Monday, including RELM Cannabis Co. in Burlington, and the Niagara Herbalist in St. Catharines.

Two stores in Hamilton are currently under construction, but neither were able to meet the April 1 deadline.

"We have been working closely with the Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team to enforce the new legislation," Penman said. "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."

"We've been working closely with our provincial counterparts to ensure that when we exercise this component of the legislation, we do so legally and efficiently. It's now up to the courts on how to proceed. We hope the appropriate fines are levied in order to discourage those individuals and businesses who are operating outside of the legal framework."

Premier's info 'outdated,' Mayor says

Mayor Fred Eisenberger told CBC News that Ford's information about the situation is "a bit outdated."

"We've been on it. Right now it's the courts that need to adjudicate on what kinds of fines they're going to levy. We don't get to do that," Eisenberger said, noting that the city has also seized property from illegal dispensaries in an effort to keep them closed.

"All the work that's being done is to try to ensure that whatever charges are laid and whatever closures are made that they hold up in court."

Two legal dispensaries are expected to open in Hamilton later this month. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Many have questioned how two stores can keep up with an obvious demand in the Hamilton region, given there were once 80 dispensaries operating in the city, on top of more traditional drug dealers and mail order services.

Eisenberger said it's obvious more stores will be needed in the future if black market usage is really going to be curbed. Starting at 25 stores was the province's way of making sure that supply wouldn't be an issue, he said. 

"There was a belief that 25 stores in the province would be the number they could service," he said. "That will grow. There's no question there will be more locations down the road that will be approved through the province."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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