The owner of Canada's biggest chain of illegal pot shops says that, as long as Toronto police keep raiding his recreational vapour lounge, he will keep reopening the controversial franchise, adding that the public appetite for such enforcement is waning in the face of coming legalization.
Don Briere, owner of 19 Weeds locations throughout British Columbia, said Friday afternoon that GoodWeeds lounge on Danforth Avenue would reopen that evening after a dozen officers executed a search warrant Thursday night and arrested the couple who owns half the business.
Police were responding to a complaint about the conspicuous storefront, which operates like a bar and sells anyone over 18 years old hits of concentrated cannabis extracts or "dabs" without proving a medical need.
"We're just going to have to open again and we want to know why [Toronto police] are wasting our tax resources," Mr. Briere said from Vancouver. "The cannabis wars are over."
Still, Christopher Goodwin and Erin Goodwin, part owners of GoodWeeds, were both charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, possession of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking and possession of proceeds of crime, according to Toronto police spokeswoman Constable Caroline de Kloet. She would not release more information about the nature of the complaint against GoodWeeds.
Mr. Briere, who was once imprisoned for running B.C.'s largest network of marijuana grow operations, is one of dozens of entrepreneurs rushing to take advantage of Toronto's rapid rise as a centre for these dispensaries, which are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside Health Canada's licensed medical-marijuana system. There is no official tally of dispensaries across Canada but more than 150 are estimated to be operating, with most in Vancouver and Victoria.
In Vancouver, the municipal police force has repeatedly said that its resources are better deployed tackling more dangerous street drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl; it ignored former health minister Rona Ambrose's demand that officers "enforce the law" and shut down the dispensaries.
Vancouver police have raided 11 shops in the past two years after they were suspected of selling to minors or having ties to gangs such as the Hells Angels, but said it will leave the 100 other operators alone unless they too are suspected such activity.
Toronto police have said they do monitor dispensaries, but have a host of other enforcement priorities.
Most of Toronto's roughly 40 pot shops allow customers to buy – but not consume – at their stores and require some form of medical paperwork showing the patient says cannabis helps treat a health condition.
Alan Young, a law professor at Osgoode Hall and a past consultant to dispensaries, said the obvious sale of cannabis products to recreational clients likely gained the lounge a bad reputation among some neighbours and forced police to act. He pointed to a similar case last September, where officers shut down another dispensary and vapour lounge called Melanheadz, which was located several blocks away from GoodWeeds.
"If I was advising a client how to avoid problems, I would advise them to keep away from dabs," said Mr. Young, who added police have shown no great will to go after those operators discreetly offering cannabis to medical patients.
Councillor Joe Cressy, chairman of the panel implementing the city's harm-reduction drug strategy, said Thursday's raid was "what we all recognize to be a failed criminalization approach" to marijuana. But Toronto city council will not mimic Vancouver in passing bylaws to regulate these illegal shops, he said.
"For the city of Toronto to establish its own bylaws that could become moot in a matter of months after they've been put in place is not the prudent and responsible way to proceed," said Mr. Cressy, whose ward encompasses the pot-shop hub of Kensington Market.
For now, he said, the city will keep urging the federal government to "move quickly but also responsibly" with a task force headed by MP Bill Blair to craft an approach to legalizing the drug.