New, illegal marijuana shop opens in downtown London

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The first new marijuana dispensary has opened in London since police launched a coordinated crackdown on the illegal businesses last spring.

And unlike the city’s other four pot shops, this one doesn’t require customers to have a valid prescription for medicinal marijuana.

The London Relief Centre quietly opened its doors in the heart of downtown, on Richmond Row, last week, just as the Ontario Liberals announced plans to open 40 government-run cannabis storefronts and an online service by the summer, when the federal government is expected to legalize recreational pot by July 1.

Despite the province’s vow to stamp out the remaining unsanctioned pot shops — more then $274 million has been pledged for enforcement — one cannabis industry watcher says the rogue dispensaries, like the ones in London, aren’t going anywhere.

“There’s still just under a year left until legalization (and) there’s likely a lot of money to be made in that window,” said Jenna Valleriani, a University of Toronto PhD candidate studying Canada’s marijuana market.

Critics have taken aim at the number of promised government-run dispensaries — there will be 150 stores operating by 2020, all of them overseen by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario — saying there aren’t near enough to satisfy the surging demand for recreational weed.

“I think they’ll continue to open up even past the July deadline,” Valleriani said of the illegal pot shops.

While the so-called 19-plus business model is popular in Toronto and Vancouver, where dozens of dispensaries operate, it’s a first for London.

New clients at the London Relief Centre are required to show a piece of identification proving they’re 19 and fill out two-page form on laminated paper, providing basic information on past marijuana use and agreeing to not resell product or use it near the shop.

“There are maybe 10 different points that you have to check off and sign,” said one member, who didn’t want to be identified. “Then they erase it.”

Staff at the London Relief Centre declined to comment Thursday.

The dispensary is located in a ground-floor unit at 691 Richmond St. City tax records show the commercial building, valued at $1 million, is owned by a numbered Ontario company.

London police didn’t immediately respond to a Free Press inquiry about dispensary.

Police last raided five dispensaries across London on March 2, seizing $170,000 worth of cannabis products and laying a two-dozen drug trafficking charges against eight people, all of them dispensary staff and owners.

With marijuana’s pending legaliztion, many have questioned whether pot charges laid in dispensary raids will hold up in court.

Dispensaries have become a divisive topic in communities, with some citizens demanding authorities shut them down, while others say the raids are a waste of police resources.

“There’s no real easy answer,” Valleriani said, pointing to Vancouver’s bid to regulate dispensaries by granting them business licences. “There’s still two-thirds of the shops in the city operating outside of municipal regulation. That also begs the question of whether or not they’re even regulatable.”

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London pot shops

Tasty Budd’s, 96 Wharncliffe Rd. S.

London Compassion Society, 5 Oxford St. W.

Healing Health, 1472 Dundas St.

Healing Health, 490 Wonderland Rd. S.

London Relief Centre, 691 Richmond St.

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