While illegal storefront dispensaries, once abundant in the city, finally seem to be going up in smoke, black market cannabis sales have grown like weeds online.
And untangling the web of illegal cannabis sales on the internet may prove to be a herculean task — too big for any one police agency to tackle.
“Toronto Police Service investigators are reviewing internally, and the Service continues to consult with our partners in MLS (Municipal Licensing & Standards) and the Ministry of Community Safety to determine the best approaches to the various channels through which cannabis is being illegally distributed,” spokesman Allison Sparkes told the Sun recently.
“The question of illegal online sales would have to involve multiple law enforcement agencies, at a minimum, as it would be beyond the capacity of any one police organization to control the internet sales environment,” she said. “We obviously encourage the public to buy legally and to use the government’s website for cannabis.”
Since Project Claudia in May 2016, Toronto cops have spent more than three years playing whack-a-mole with illegal pot shops — repeatedly raiding dispensaries, seizing product and cash, laying charges and issuing fines — shutting the storefronts down only to see them, more often than not, reopen a day later.
But the uphill battle has seen the number illegal dispensaries dwindle dramatically. Of the more than 90 shops in the city prior to cannabis legalization last fall, only an estimated 10 or so remain.
However, many involved in the black market have simply gone virtual, ditching their storefronts and moving their operations online, with some boasting delivery in under two hours.
A former dispensary owner, who was forced out of business by repeated police raids and asked not to be named, is convinced most cannabis users are still buying their supply via the black market — even if that means shopping online, where illegal pot sales have become so rampant he doubts it can be policed.
“Are cops going to start going after people selling pot online instead of tracking down pedophiles and fraudsters?” he said.
He believes people have remained loyal to “their guy” in the wake of legalization because of the ability to buy edibles — still illegal in Ontario — the variety of strains offered, price and quality.
You can go to one of the province’s OCS (Ontario Cannabis Store) locations, or to one of the five private shops in Toronto lucky enough to have won the lottery for the handful of licences the government has issued, and pay $20 for a gram of its best pot, he said, explaining the licensed private pot shops sell the exact same product as OCS.
“Or you can buy a gram of weed through the black market for $15 that will blow that stuff away.”