If you can’t beat them, join them. Mississauga voted to legalize cannabis retail stores to combat the surge of illegal market sales.
The city was among a handful of municipalities that opted out of retailing cannabis when legalization rolled around in 2018.
It required motions to be submitted three different times before the city council voted to opt-in for dispensaries last Wednesday.
The change passed with an 8-4 vote, the same results as in last vote in 2021. Only this time, in favour of the motion.
“It was a difficult vote for a number of councilors. But I think in the end, you know, we had a robust discussion and I think the majority of counselors came around,” Mississauga Councillor Dipika Damerla said.
Damerla, who twice voted against lifting the ban, put forward her successful motion last week. This followed a city report highlighting that 50 per cent of Mississauga residents were served by the illegal market.
The answer was clear for Damerla when the choice was between illegal stores or legal stores.
“I saw my own views evolve,” she said.
Fear of dispensaries being clustered together continued to be the major concern of councilors who opposed the motion. They played the waiting game, desiring more control over the placement of cannabis shops.
To Damerla, it became evident that would never happen.
She said the market has had time to mature and knows the risks accompanied by clustering.
“When you compare it to the early days, it was like a gold rush and everyone was opening up cannabis stores everywhere,” Damerla said. “But over time, people quickly figured out that not everyone can make a buck.”
Damerla said there was an illegal shop in her ward that she relentlessly attempted to shut down. Even after being chained up six times by law enforcement, the store remained operational.
The introduction of legal stores was necessary to deter these sellers from continuously reopening, Damerla said.
Prohibition serves as an example of this strategy being viable.
“Bootleggers were making money like nobody’s business. Today, no one makes money selling illegal liquor,” Damerla said.
Mississauga residents can expect to see legal dispensaries around their corners in as soon as six months.
Apps such as “Weedmaps” provided a platform for sellers to operate in Mississauga. Users can have cannabis delivered to them through the app that displays all weed services in their areas.
Humber News spoke with one of these businesses featured on the app that delivered cannabis to Mississauga prior to the legalization.
“People would contact us to deliver to Mississauga all the time. In my eyes, they were going to get their hands on weed regardless, I don’t see a huge problem with us making it more convenient for them,” said Lisandro Abreu, owner of Spot420.
Abreu said there’s a large market for weed in Mississauga and doesn’t agree with residents having to drive beyond their city to smoke.
He points to other dispensaries that similarly deliver to Mississauga and stated he’s never been approached about needing to stop delivering there.
When Abreu caught wind of retail being legalized in the city, he considered it a victory on behalf of Mississauga’s cannabis community.
“The faster municipalities begin to understand that dispensaries aren’t all that bad, the better,” Abreu said.
Abreu already had his mind on opening a shop in the city once the motion is put into action to add alongside his seven other locations.