104 harbord st

Illegal Toronto dispensary location wins retail cannabis lottery

Toronto's most notorious illegal dispensary chain could be trying to go legit, if the results of Ontario's second legal pot shop licence lottery are any indication.

CAFE's popular location at 104 Harbord Street is one of 13 Toronto addresses listed on the AGCO's website right now, as winners of the August 20 "cannabis retail store lottery draw."

This doesn't mean CAFE has the city's or the provincial government's permission to start selling weed again (if they ever even stopped) after repeated police raids and closure orders.

It does, however, mean that the person who filed an expression of interest for that location may now apply for a cannabis Retail Operator Licence and a Retail Store Authorization.

"Applicants have until August 28, 2019 to do so, at which point the AGCO will undertake its full eligibility and licensing review," reads the regulatory body's announcement of all 42 Ontario cannabis lottery winners.

"The AGCO will only licence applicants and authorize stores that meet all legal and regulatory requirements."

And therein lies the rub: CAFE is literally famous for its open defiance of the law.

All four of the chain's Toronto locations have been raided in recent months, some of them multiple times per week as city bylaw enforcement officers cracked down in an attempt to stop the company from selling unlicenced cannabis products.

CAFE has managed to continue operating despite this, however, thanks to a sneaky loophole in the Ontario Cannabis Act, an online sales and delivery system, and even by selling marijuana outside in front of their blocked off stores.

This spring, when the Ontario's legal retail stores were given authorization to open, illegal dispensary owners were warned that violating the province's new sales laws could result in them being barred from ever getting a legitimate retail licence for cannabis in the future.

As per the AGCO's website, a person cannot hold a Retail Operator Licence or get Retail Store Authorization if they have "been convicted or charged with any offence under the Cannabis Licence Act" or other offences under the Cannabis Control Act.

They don't need to be convicted to be disqualified either — operators can be denied merely for "carrying on activities that are not in compliance with certain offences under the Cannabis Control Act (CCA) and Cannabis Act (CA)."

A steady trail of news stories and social media posts provide plenty of evidence to suggest that the activities carried out at 104 Harbord St. are in volation of current cannabis sales laws.

The one way we might see a legal pot store open at that location is if CAFE removes itself from the equation completely.

Like many applicants, the company behind the bid for a licence at 104 Harbord St. used a generic name for its application: "11180673 Canada Inc."

The unnamed corporation was registered in January of this year to an address in Hamilton.

Based on what CAFE has said in the past about never shutting down, it doesn't seem likely they'd sell off the business for somebody else to take over. But who knows? The company has yet to respond to a request for comment.

We'll find out more when the AGCO authorization announcements start rolling in.

Update: The Canadian Cannabis Retailers' Union has provided the following statement: 

"It has recently come to the attention of the Canadian Cannabis Retailers' Union (CCRU) that CAFE a member of the CCRU has been successful in the lottery process for its application for a Provincial recreational cannabis retail license in Ontario. The CCRU would like to reiterate that compliance with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario's (AGCO) recreational cannabis retail guidelines, as well as compliance with the applicable Provincial and Federal regulatory requirements are not sufficient to maintain compliance with the regulatory mandate of the CCRU. In short, more is needed than mere compliance with Provincial and Federal guidelines. As more CCRU members become licensed by provinces and territories across Canada, CCRU would like to remind Canadians that they can (and should) demand more of their retail cannabis providers, including ensuring safe, reasonable access to quality products in a dignified manner, and ensuring that the products they require are kept in stock in a reliable manner. If the Provincial regulator's policies prevent compliance with the standards CCRU members and their customers have come to expect, the CCRU will take the regulator to court to protect consumers, consumer standards, and union members whose businesses depend on sensible regulation."

Lead photo by

Mina Hanna

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