Toronto police asking for $1.5 million to deal with legal cannabis

| David Brown

Toronto police want $1.5 million from the city to address the cost of cannabis related enforcement to the department, although it’s difficult to determine how this will be spent. 

The city’s police budget, which made waves earlier this year for its more than $1 billion price tag, includes a reference to a request for $1.5 million to cover the expected cost of “cannabis related enforcement” in the coming year.

The cannabis enforcement includes, according to Toronto police, the closure of illegal dispensaries, training, and destruction of seized cannabis. The amount is based on a previous report from the end of 2019 that estimated the department spent $1.1 million on cannabis related enforcement and training in the first year of legalization. 

In 2018, Ontario set aside $40 million over two years to help cities manage implementation and oversight of cannabis legalization. The first $30 million was distributed in 2019, with $10 million set aside for unforeseen costs. Ontario also invested $3.26 million to support municipalities through enhanced enforcement against illegal cannabis operations.

This plan, called the Ontario Cannabis Legislation Implementation Fund (O.C.L.I.F.), was to be used for increased enforcement (e.g. police, public health and by-law enforcement, court administration, litigation), increased response to public inquiries (e.g. 311 calls, correspondence), increased paramedic services, increased fire services, and by-law/policy development (e.g. police, public health, workplace safety policy).

Ontario has distributed four payments from this fund, with cities receiving at least $5,000 each payment. Toronto received just over $3 million for its first payment, $3.7 million for its second and $1.5 million for its third, and just last month the fourth and final payment of $747,954 for a total of just under $9 million.

Cost of policing and enforcement has been a major part of municipal budgets all across Canada, with a significant portion of cannabis tax revenue and other related funding going to police, enforcement, fire and emergency services as it relates to cannabis legalization. This is in addition to costs associated with developing and maintaining municipal zoning rules and bylaws.

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), municipal administration and local policing costs linked to the legalization of cannabis will total $3-4.75 million per 500,000 residents.  

As some examples of that spending and activity, public news reports show that Toronto police spent more than $350,000 placing bricks in front of several illegal dispensaries locations that refused to close, even following raids and product seizures in the summer of 2019, or about one-third of what they say was their cost for the first year of legalization was. 

The city shut down 11 illicit dispensaries in the first week of legalization. Many more shut down voluntarily both prior to and after legalization, either out of fear of enforcement, or in a desire to apply to become a legal, licenced retailer. 

StratCann reached out to TPS on March 13 to find out the specifics of how this money has been spent so far, how many closures of dispensaries or other enforcement-related activity took place since legalization, and how much was allocated for training purposes. After some back-and-forth with the department, TPS finally informed StratCann on April 8 that this information would require a formal, mailed request to the department’s Access and Privacy Section. A request has been sent and this information will be updated when the information becomes available.