Bylaw officers, not police, will eventually shut down pot shops, police chief says
But Mark Saunders defends recent police raids, saying they were 'necessary'
Bylaw officers, not police officers, will eventually take over the job of shutting down marijuana dispensaries in the city, says Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.
Speaking on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, Saunders defended recent police raids on pot shops, saying they were "necessary" given the passage last week of provincial cannabis legislation. Police worked with bylaw officers on the raids, he said.
Bylaw officers, however, will soon be responsible for closing illegal pot shops down once the officers receive official designation from the province to do so, he said.
"With the designation piece, you will see that they will take the lead on this and it will be a continued effort from city hall's perspective," Saunders said on Monday.
"Our roles will be very limited, if any, as we move further down the line. Right now, we're starting the process so that we can deal with all of the nuances."
Saunders said operating a pot shop in Toronto is now an infraction of a provincial law, not an offence under the Criminal Code.
His comments come after Toronto police shut down five pot shops on Friday and charged and released eight people under the new legislation. Under the law, it is legal to buy marijuana in Ontario only from the province's online website.
Illegal stores that wanted to go legitimate were told they could only apply for a retail licence if they shut down operations by Oct. 17.
Meanwhile, Toronto police say they have now shut down a total of 11 unlicensed marijuana dispensaries since cannabis became legal last week.
They say 21 people have been charged and released during the raids under the province's new Cannabis Act.
Police say they'll continue to crack down on unlicensed distributors in the wake of pot legalization.
The only legal cannabis retailer in Ontario is a government-run online store until brick-and-mortar stores open on April 1, 2019.
Ontario will be issuing licenses to operate dispensaries, but the system involving bricks and mortar stores won't be in place until April 1, 2019.
Pot outside of online sales 'coming from black market'
Saunders said the new law imposes heavy fines on those who sell marijuana outside of the Ontario Cannabis Store and on landlords who rent premises used as pot dispensaries.
If individuals and companies reopen dispensaries that have been closed due to a closure order, they are subject to daily heavy fines as well, he said.
"That provides us with more tools to move in the right direction," Saunders said. "It is to discourage them from opening and to discourage them from selling because, at the end of the day, it is coming from the black market."
Ninety-two illegal pot dispensaries were operating in Toronto when the cannabis law changed last week, 56 were closed, about 36 remained open, and police raided 11 in all.
"It's unlawful. We're going to hit where it hurts. They're in it for the money right now. It's money and that's what drives them to stay open," he said.
Police said, together with the city, officers issued interim closures at the following locations after Friday's raids: 66 Fort York Blvd., 333 Spadina Ave., 912 Danforth Ave., 1506 Dundas St. W., and 2655 Lawrence Ave. E.
With files from Metro Morning and the Canadian Press