Toronto foot massive bill to prevent black market dispensaries closed

Published Jan 29, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / JHVEPhoto

Black market cannabis is a lucrative industry that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, despite cities like Toronto spending nearly half of a million dollars to lock them up.

It all started just prior to legalization when big cities like Toronto were paving the way for a brand-new industry to flourish, and in doing so, shutting down every black-market marijuana dispensary became a necessity. Raids quickly became commonplace, but that fact alone was not enough to deter happy customers from coming back for more.

No matter how many times they’d raided all of the dispensaries on their radar, pot shops would be restocked and back in business by the following morning, which is why some city officials got creative and came up with more unique ways to shutter marijuana dispensary doors. This ultimately led to threats fines and evictions, which only worked in some communities, and eventually, it was clear that they would need a more extreme measure, so they started placing cement blocks in front of black-market dispensary doors.

Cement blocks did not deter a single marijuana dispensary

In the summer of 2019, city officials and police took the fight to a new level by placing massive cement structures directly in front of every illicit dispensaries doors to keep customers from entering. The city chose to pay someone to drop the heavy blocks on the doorsteps of marijuana dispensary owners, but that’s not the only reason for this costly expense, because they also, in many cases, have to pay to remove or reinstall them after owners figured out how to remove them themselves.

According to one report from The Toronto Star, the city paid just over $375,000.00 between just four dispensaries, during this feeble attempt to shut them down. What the city didn’t expect was how creative pot shop owners would be in working around them. Some chose to hire employees to remove the blocks by hand physically, and others put the expense back onto the city by declaring the address as a residence, which forced bylaw officers to remove.

Most dispensary owners eventually gave up on fighting with the city once they saw that their loyal customers were showing up anyway, and that inspired them to take their products and sales to the street using the cement blocks as a comical backdrop to laugh about. Eventually, the city phased out this idea, but not before wasting a whole bunch of money doing so.


That reported $375,000.00 was spread among only four dispensaries called CAFÉ, and none of them is closed. That’s right! the government spend almost half of a million dollars on an unsuccessful attempt, and all four CAFÉ locations are still running today without proper licensing, and those locations were not the only targets in this situation, which means that chances are they’ve spent well into the millions on this failed project.

What did we learn from this experience?

The federal and provincial governments remain convinced that these unsanctioned stores will have to go, but after everything those dispensaries have been through, it would be crazy to assume that they would give up so easily. This entire situation only proves three things.

The first being that cannabis enthusiasts are a dedicated and a loyal bunch of customers, the second is that cement bricks, just like jail cells, can’t hold back the market, and the third is that not a single person in our government is willing to admit that this was all a mistake that could have been avoided by offering properly licensing to these interested participants.

The evolution of the black market cannabis in Canada


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