Pottery store owner wants city of Toronto to crack down on illegal dispensary next door

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A licensed cannabis distributor wants the city to do more to eliminate illegal pot stores like the one that openly operates just two doors down from his home.

“The city of Toronto needs to take action,” a frustrated Levon Kostanyan said Thursday as he stood outside Lagoo, his new cannabis store on Harbord Street, west of the city’s downtown core.

“There is a legal store that has all the licenses that has all the products that meet Health Canada regulations. And there is a store next door that has no license… and it is fully functioning. daily sales. “

But Carleton Grant, executive director of the city’s municipal licensing and standards division, insists the town hall is doing everything possible to crack down on the controversial chain of pottery shops CAFE, one of which is neighboring Lagoo. .

“We know CAFE and their operations,” Grant said. “We have been working on closing them for several years. “

CAFE, which stands for Cannabis and Fine Edibles, faces several charges under the province’s Cannabis Control Act. The city will not discuss the charges while the matter is still in court. (Mike Smee / CBC)

City staff told CBC Toronto CAFE, which stands for Cannabis and Fine Edibles, faces three charges under Ontario’s Cannabis Control Act from city law enforcement officers – one in 2018 , 2019 and 2020, which are still before the courts.

“We are waiting for this legal process to take place to deal with them accordingly,” Grant said.

Kostanyan says it took a year and tens of thousands of dollars to renovate his store and get clearance from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. It finally opened about three weeks ago.

But he said he was “frustrated” to see potential customers walk past his store and buy weed from the nearby, illegally operated CAFE store.

The head of the city’s municipal licensing and standards division, Carelton Grant, disputes the idea that the city has done nothing to curb illegal jar shops. (Greg Bruce / CBC)

And he wonders why the city was able to shut down the Adamson Barbecue restaurant in Etobicoke so quickly last year for defying COVID-19 protocols, but seems powerless to control CAFE.

Grant said the two situations are not comparable because restaurants must be licensed by the city, but pottery stores do not. They operate under licenses issued by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

Although police can technically stop an operation, Kostanyan said the city told him the decision was made to enforce the cannabis control law using the city’s municipal bylaw enforcement officers. – not the police.

Licensed cannabis retailers must purchase their product from a crown corporation called the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS). Unauthorized operations do not and often obtain their products from illegal suppliers, Kostanyan said.

Therefore, Kostanyan said CAFE may offer different varieties than OCS offers.

CAFE has a controversial pedigree. It was opened by two Windsor-area men – Jon Galvano and Wesley Weber – in Toronto in 2016, and it quickly grew to four outlets, mostly in the downtown west side – outlets still in operation. .

The company has faced more than a dozen attempts by police and city law enforcement to close its stores. The agents attacked them and then welded the doors.

But even huge cement blocks stacked outside to block the entrance did not deter illegal locations.

“They were kidnapped by the store owner in the middle of the night with their own gear,” Grant said.

CAFE’s location at 104 Harbord Street was cordoned off with concrete blocks by police and bylaw enforcement officers in a raid in 2019. Within hours, the company removed them, according to city ​​staff. (Chris Glover / CBC)

Kendra Stanyon, a lawyer who has often defended pottery shop owners over the past five years or so, said it could be some time before the CAFE charges are dealt with in court.

“Like any criminal case, it can take several months to over a year, especially if they are not particularly motivated on their side to get things done faster,” she said of CAFE.

But Stanyon also said the city could do more to crack down on CAFE.

“There are certain mechanisms that allow it, especially if there are public safety concerns… to go ahead and close the site,” she said.

“And… if the owners weren’t charged, that could be a way to put pressure on the organization.”

Owners who allow the use of their premises by unlicensed cannabis retailers face “hefty fines,” she said.

The unregistered CAFE pottery shop on the left is just a few windows from the legally operated Lagoo dispensary on the right. (Mike Smee / CBC)

Grant said the city has been trying for years to shut down CAFE operations and it is now up to the justice system to do its job.

“We have come to a point where we have to rely on the legal process to resolve this problem. “

Grant pointed out that convictions under the Cannabis Control Act result in fines of up to $ 250,000 for individuals and up to $ 1 million for corporations.

And he said the city has already managed to shut down more than 90 illegal operations in recent years; there are about ten left, he said.

CBC Toronto offered CAFE the opportunity to talk about the controversy. He has not yet responded to our request.


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