City targets landlords in fight against Toronto's pot retailers

Six months after the Project Claudia raids shut down dozens of the city's marijuana dispensaries, many of the pot shop owners who managed to stay afloat are now facing a new pressure - from the city.

143 dispensaries charged with zoning offences

Abi Roach, the owner of the HotBox marijuana lounge in Kensington Market, says the city is leaning on landlords to get rid of tenants who sell marijuana. (CBC)

Six months after the Project Claudia raids by police shut down dozens of the city's marijuana dispensaries, many of the pot shop owners who managed to stay afloat are now facing new pressure.

Bylaw enforcement officers are warning landlords that the city will shutter their buildings if they rent their premises to marijuana retailers, city spokesperson Tammy Robbinson said Friday.

"The people who were raided and re-opened now have to fight their landlords to keep their legal leases," said marijuana legalization advocate Abi Roach, who owns the HotBox pot lounge in Kensington Market.

"Finding a landlord who'll rent out a space is near impossible."

After the mass raids in May, shop owners were charged with a variety of criminal offences by police. But the city added charges of its own — accusations that storefront medicinal pot dispensaries were violating a zoning bylaw that only allows pot to be sold from three licensed locations in Toronto.

"The city is going after the landlords and pressuring them with heavy fines up to $50,000 for having a tenant that retails cannabis,"  said Roach.

Robbinson said the city has investigated 143 dispensaries, and laid 347 charges. Of those, 100 closed their doors, while the remaining 43 have remained open while their cases make their way through the courts.

So far, there have been only nine court decisions. Employees and owners have faced fines ranging from $550 to $3,000 and have been prohibited from working in or owning a marijuana dispensary. Violating the prohibition order can mean fines up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail.

Lawyer Kendra Stanyon, who is representing some of the owners and employees who were charged during Project Claudia, says another police marijuana shop raid took place last week. (CBC)

But the landlords who rent to pot retailers are also facing stiff penalties, said lawyer Kendra Stanyon, who's representing several of the owners and employees nabbed in the May raids.

"Landlords are receiving letters from city bylaw officers ... that indicate their property could be at risk of forfeiture" if they continue to rent to pot retailers, Stanyon said.

"Even if they've been good tenants, nobody wants to lose their building," she said.

Stanyon said smaller police raids have been going on since May, with the most recent one happening last week.