Toronto

Weedora distributes $200K in marijuana vouchers as defiant illegal pot shops open

At least three illegal pot shops opened Saturday, defying closure orders. One shop went one step further, promising to distribute free marijuana vouchers worth $200,000 to customers signing up for delivery.

Chris James says he wants to draw attention to the issues affecting him and other small pot entrepreneurs

People waited in line outside a Cannabis & Coffee store, which was giving out $100 marijuana vouchers. (Charlotte Mondoux-Fournier/CBC Radio-Canada)

At least three illegal pot shops opened Saturday in another brazen display of defiance and disregard for numerous efforts by the city to keep them closed.

One shop went a step further, promising to distribute free marijuana vouchers worth $200,000 starting at "high" noon.

The owner of Weedora — an unlicensed marijuana dispensary — Chris James, said he took the unprecedented step in order to draw attention to the issues affecting him and other small marijuana entrepreneurs.

James said he wants a retail licence to deliver cannabis door to door but fears that by the time he gets one, there will be no room for him in the market.

"The government should allow delivery services because people would prefer to have it delivered to their homes," James told CBC News.

"A dispensary is not the preferred model for the actual customer. The actual preferred model is a delivery service. People would rather have it delivered in 30 minutes or less like pizza."

Owner of Weedora Chris James says he wants to deliver cannabis door to door, but fears that by the time he gets a retail licence, there will be no room for him in the market. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

James, who also owns Cannabis & Coffee Inc., said he incurred huge losses because of Doug Ford government's decision last December to cap the initial number of cannabis retail licenses at 25.

After taking office in 2018, the Ford government announced a repeal of the provincial-run retail system for cannabis proposed by the Liberal government. The government had proposed that any private operator would be eligible to apply for a licence to open a cannabis store.

Months later, citing a severe supply shortage of cannabis, the province reversed course and imposed a limit of 25 licences.

"The government should also allow the craft market to enter the system," James said.

"We keep hearing about a supply shortage [and] that's why there's no more stores being opened. If there's a supply shortage, there's thousands of growers that the government authorized to be medical growers that should be allowed to grow for recreational people as well."

A band played outside a Cannabis & Coffee store on Saturday. (Charlotte Mondoux-Fournier/CBC Radio-Canada)

James said people could sign up at the Front Street location of Cannabis & Coffee to have Weedora deliver organic craft-market strains of cannabis to their door and receive the free marijuana as an incentive.

Saga Smith was one of those standing in line to get one of the $100 cannabis vouchers.

He said he was eager to sign up to have his cannabis delivered.

"I like getting it delivered, it's very convenient," Smith told CBC News.

"After work, I'm tired, I want to go home and wait for [the] weed to come to me, not go to the weed."

For Michael Elbaz, "A hundred dollars worth of weed is pretty tempting."

Saga Smith was among those standing in line Saturday to get one of the $100 cannabis vouchers from Weedora. (John Sandeman/CBC)

In addition to Weedora, two branches of Cannabis and Fine Edibles (CAFE) also opened on Saturday.

Collectively, the chain of sleek coffee shops that double as marijuana dispensaries have been raided and shut down at least a dozen times since Canada legalized cannabis last October — only to bounce back each time, usually reopening within hours.  

Following the legalization of cannabis, illegal dispensaries were able to operate thanks in part to a legal loophole in the province's Cannabis Control Act.

That loophole prevented authorities from barring access to, and removing people from, suspected dispensaries that were also being used as residences. 

The act has been subsequently amended by the provincial government to allow police to bar entry to all pot dispensaries, including those used as residences.

Mayor says crackdown on illegal pot stores is working

In spite of the defiance of the illegal pot dispensaries, Mayor John Tory says the city's crackdown is working.

"Well, if you think of the fact that we used to have a hundred plus illegal shops and we're down to a handful now, I think it is working," Tory told CBC News. 

"We just have to deal with it as a city. It costs a lot of money to the taxpayer to enforce the law but that's what we're supposed to do. People call on us to enforce the law."

Tory is also calling on the lawbreakers to desist.

"Whether people are giving it away, whether they're selling it in a tent, whether they are open late at night or early in the morning, it's against the law. If you have a shop that is not licensed, this is against the law," he said.

"I just don't for the life of me understand why people deliberately flout the law... as opposed to working to change the law if they don't like it."

CBC News reached out to Toronto police for a comment on the illegal pot shops opened on Saturday but has yet to receive a response. 

With files from CBC's Nick Boisvert and Charlotte Mondoux-Fournier