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Canada  

Some dispensaries stay open

As tens of thousand of Ontarians purchased cannabis through a government website on Wednesday, some users in Toronto preferred getting their pot from unlicensed dispensaries that remained open despite the threat of criminal prosecution.

It was business as usual at 1Tonamara, an illegal pot shop located in the city's downtown, hours after recreational cannabis became legal nationwide. The Spadina Avenue shop, along with the Cloud 6ix dispensary up the street, had customers entering every few minutes.

"Today business has been good, you know, I guess with a lot of other places shut down it helps," said 1Tonamara employee Mike Vander Marel.

Many of the city's dispensaries have, however, shut down in the leadup to legalization in response to a promise by the provincial government that illegal pot shop owners who obeyed the law, would be allowed to apply for retail licences.

Closing the storefront shops and leaving only online options, with delivery delays and possible shortages, doesn't make much sense, said Vander Marel.

"I think it's a dumb thing for them to legalize something and then have it so inaccessible...it would be like after prohibition, if they made booze legal but there was no legal booze."

Vancouver and Victoria have licensed some dispensaries, but others operate without a licence. Some dispensaries remained open, while others shut their doors.

Don Briere, owner and operator of Weeds Glass and Gifts, said the company has closed most of its retail outlets in accordance with the law.

"We've shut down 10 locations and we've had to lay off about 85 people and probably more, but we're doing this in order to become legal," Briere said.

At the same time, four of its Vancouver locations and one shop with a temporary licence in Sechelt remained open. The company is waiting for a court decision on the city of Vancouver's application for an injunction to shut down dozens of retailers operating without a business licence, including the four Weeds locations, he said.

In the meantime, Briere said the company is paying federal, provincial and corporate taxes on its sales, and paying its staff a living wage with extended medical and dental coverage. It's in the process of applying to the province for a retail licence, he said.

"We're doing what our lawyers are calling, 'good business practices.'"

Briere also said he has been paying attention to B.C. government's price points, which begin at $7 per gram. Weeds' cheapest gram is $4.

Vancouver's police chief said earlier this week that enforcement against the dispensaries would not be a priority on the first day of legalization.



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