The city government of Toronto spent more than $350,000 to blockade unlicensed cannabis shops with slabs of concrete last summer, according to a city official. Senior communications adviser Alex Burke said that a total of $361,459.49 was spent to install and then reinstall large concrete blocks that barred entry to four Cannabis and Fine Edibles (CAFE) shops that were operating without licenses.

The amount spent includes labor to install the concrete blocks and pay city engineers and security staff. The total was not paid by city funds, according to Burke, who wrote in an email to local media that “the city has received monies from the provincial government to support the establishment and implementation of an enforcement strategy for cannabis in the city of Toronto.”

To serve its population of nearly 3 million people, Toronto has only six licensed cannabis retailers, according to information from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which is tasked with regulating commercial cannabis in the province. Eleven more shops have been proposed and are waiting for licenses to be approved.

In July, workers from the city’s Department of Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) installed the concrete blocks in front of the four CAFE shops, which city officials said were specifically targeted because the owners were repeat offenders believed to be raking in “millions of dollars” in illicit cannabis sales.

Concrete Barricades Thwarted

One of those stores, however, was only closed for a matter of hours. After the concrete blocks were moved aside overnight, cannabis sales resumed at the shop. City workers returned the next day and installed the concrete blocks a second time. The concrete blocks in front of the other CAFE locations were also moved on several occasions to allow the shops to reopen and then reinstalled by the city.

At times, people could be seen outside the barricaded CAFE shops openly selling cannabis in public. Police eventually conducted raids on the shops and 17 people, including a 16-year-old boy, were arrested and charged with offenses including unlawful sale and distribution of cannabis, and unlawful possession of criminal proceeds.

David Shuang, a spokesperson for CAFE, said in September that there is nothing preventing the company from operating as an independently regulated retailer and disputed the charges. But action against the chain continues, with warrants executed last week by the city’s cannabis enforcement unit at three locations. Burke said that new charges have been filed in those cases.

“MLS are still enforcing the (Cannabis Control Act),” she said. “All property owners and operators have been charged and are before the courts waiting disposition.”

However, as of Friday, all four CAFE shops were still open for business and people could be seen entering and exiting the shops.

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