Why Toronto's cannabis 'grey market' 'ain't going nowhere' as legalization looms
From 60% to 70% of the recreational market will remain underground, expert says
"I will carve out a space if one isn't made for me," lounge owner Abi Roach said.
Nonetheless, players in the existing network of businesses refuse to be pushed out.
There are 219 weed delivery services and 66 dispensaries listed in Toronto on Weedmaps — a popular app that maps and reviews cannabis shops and strains in North America.
In the meantime, her business remains in legal limbo — a position that is by no means new to her.
"We've been here a very long time without ever knowing if tomorrow we will be open," she said.
Agility to outlast opposition
"In 18 years, we've had the agility to outlast all kinds of prime ministers and mayors and premiers with different ideas and thoughts about cannabis, so my fear of somehow disappearing is very minimal," she explained.
"I ain't going nowhere."
Staying nimble is dispensary owner Justin Loizos's main goal as legalization approaches — whenever that may be.
'If I get raided, I will be open the next day if my health allows it.' - Justin Loizos , dispensary owner
The 29-year-old owns Just Compassion, a medical pot dispensary in Toronto's west end, and believes he is poised to adapt his business model enough to squeeze into the legal framework.
"I could put a doctor's office out front, a vapour lounge here, bongs for sale, maybe some [hydroponic] equipment," he said. It all depends on the legal regulations the province lays down, he says.
Either way, he has no plans to leave the industry.
"The day I close Just Compassion is the day Ontario Disabilities supplies weed for everyone who needs it," he said. "If I get raided, I will be open the next day if my health allows it."
Jumping from place-to-place
While Loizos is determined to dig in, others, like Tania Cyalume, are happy to ditch the brick-and-mortar.
The 39-year-old used to run Queens of Cannabis, a dispensary that was shut down by Toronto police during the Project Claudia raids. Now, she's moved her business to a more flexible model.
"There are various pop-up markets in the city every month and so we've just been jumping around from place to place and our patients follow us," she said.
The pop-up market organizers are very careful to keep their location a secret so that they're not targeted by police.
'Bottleneck' will block legal market transition, expert says
The Cannabis Act, currently in the Senate, provides for edibles to be allowed recreationally by 2019 but like all other forms, it is currently illegal.
"The legal channel, if they're lucky, will represent 30 or 40 per cent of total demand during the first year," said Miles Light, founder of the Colorado-based Marijuana Policy Group.
Light blames this gap on the "bottleneck" that will be created if only 80 storefronts open up in Ontario, a province of over 14 million people, by 2019 as promised.
"Colorado has over 800 outlets and we only have five million people so if the consumers can't get marijuana at a reasonable access point then they'll probably return to the black market."
Joint Ventures: As cannabis legalization looms in Canada, CBC Toronto's series examines how businesses are affected by the green rush. Who will rise from the ashes and who will be left behind?
With files from Chris Glover