Ottawa pot shops put 'on notice' after Ontario unveils marijuana plan

Ottawa's police chief welcomed plans to regulate the sale of marijuana in Ontario, but at least one Ottawa pot shop remains defiant in face of an expected crackdown.

Ottawa police Chief says city needs resources to shut 17 local dispensaries down

Ottawa's police chief says there are 17 illegal marijuana dispensaries operating in the city. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Ottawa's police chief welcomed plans to regulate the sale of marijuana in Ontario, but at least one Ottawa pot shop remains defiant in face of an expected crackdown.

The plan also calls for the shuttering of illegal pot shops, 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," Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau welcomed the announcement and the promise of more resources, but said he wants to see more details about how enforcement will play out locally.

Bordeleau estimates there are 17 illegal dispensaries in the city, but as fast as they close them, another pops up. 

"The frustration is that these stores have reopened, and we have limited resources in order to do these investigations," said Bordeleau, noting the city is already dealing with other policing priorities, including the very deadly illegal opioid crisis.

Cannabis Culture worker Ming Saad doesn't believe the province will be able to control the sale of marijuana. 'They're not listening to what people need,' she says. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Pot shop on being shut down: 'They can try'

Ming Saad, a budtender of Ottawa pot shop Canabis Culture, a store raided this spring, said the government's approach ignores the needs of the customers and will be impossible to enforce.

"It's not feasible for anybody. As cannabis consumers, they know they don't need the government for it," she said.

"They can try to drive us out of business, but if they're not going to provide quality cannabis and variety to people at the same time, if they're only going to sell flowers to people and not provide concentrates or even edibles, it's going to be hard for them to make money for sure, because they're not listening to what people need," she said.

Black market could benefit from under supply

The head of Canada's largest licensed producer welcomed the announcement. The new provincial distribution system will rely on contracts with licensed producers to supply enough product.

Canopy Growth Corporation is tripling the size of its Tweed plant to create one million square feet of greenhouse, according to company CEO Bruce Linton. 

However he said even as licensed producers expand to meet new demand, with an estimated three million new Canadian consumers for recreational pot, a quarter of the market will remain undersupplied.

"That's important because whatever we don't produce, will be available to the black market," said Linton. "It's not a light switch," he said, adding it will take a few years to phase in.

That could mean policing illegal shops will remain a problem, he said.

Millions in new revenue to go back into services, policing 

Linton's predictions about the value of the legal market have been based on estimates of the current illicit market in marijuana, valued from $7 to $8 billion, with perhaps $2.5 billion for Ontario alone.

The revenue for the province, according to Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, has yet to be determined, but Linton suggests if we just add the current provincial Harmonized Sales Tax, the revenue opportunity for the province could be an estimated $375 million. 

Sousa said the province is committed to dedicating those revenues to harm reduction, public education, and policing related to the challenges introduced with the legalization of marijuana.

That's what police have been asking for, said Bordeleau, who said they would use the money to train officers, crack down on illicit operations and purchase equipment to better police impaired drivers.