How This Chain of Illegal Dispensaries Captured the Hearts of Toronto

Published on July 25, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Cafe Illegal Dispensaries
Photo by Lisa Campbell/Twitter

If you’ve been living under a rock in Toronto, or rather, a few 4,000 pound cement blocks, you may have missed headlines circling around one of the most notorious yet beloved illegal dispensaries in the city, Cannabis and Fine Edibles (or CAFE for short).

In recent weeks, the city has ramped up enforcement efforts to shut down the four locations operating under the CAFE marquee–though the outlaw cannabis purveyor isn’t going down without a fight.Join the Leafly Canada Community

Conducting Illegal Business in Brazen Fashion

In advance of legalization coming into effect, dozens of budding entrepreneurs set up shop across the GTA in the hopes of getting a headstart in the emerging market. That was until the provincial government announced that illicit dispensaries still in operation after October 17, 2018 would not be eligible for legitimacy.

Some grey market retailers hung on as long as they could, but many folded under the pressure (and fines, and the charges), closing “temporarily” in hopes of getting licensed in the near future.

CAFE, in the meantime, has taken a different approach: repeatedly defying law enforcement’s attempts to close the businesses and promptly reopening following raids.

In April, the chain averted the closure of their stores by claiming that a tenant living on premises was being unlawfully evicted. In response, the Province amended the Cannabis Control Act to remove the legal loophole.

illegal dispensary cafe toronto

William Norman/Leafly

Since then, law enforcement has resorted to placing huge cement blocks in front of each CAFE location in hopes of physically stopping continued business.

The physical deterrents saw varied success, but once locked out of their storefronts, CAFE operators launched a shuttle service to ferry customers to open locations and have even taken to selling cannabis off iPads on the sidewalks in front of their now barricaded businesses.

Support Swells

Despite the spectacle, support for the overtly illegal operation is hardly waning. As evidenced by the long queues of customers outside the barricaded stores, consumers seem unfazed by CAFE’s nefarious supply of cannabis and the recent CBC story that reports CAFE’s “backers have included a notorious counterfeiter and a Lamborghini-driving ex-wrestling champ.”

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As CAFE’s loyal customers began to see the physical signs of The End, petitions sprang up, with a “Toronto Community Affairs” group asking the local community to sign and support an open market model for cannabis in the province. CAFE’s homepage links to this petition but it’s unclear if Toronto Community Affairs is associated in whole or in part with CAFE.

Meanwhile, social media users decried the loss of their local cannabis shop, where seemingly, much “good” was being done in the eyes of the consumer. The concrete blocks outside the shuttered locations were even tagged in mourning.

An unofficial funeral for the chain has been set up by a “random fan” and is scheduled to take place out front of CAFE’s Harbord location at 4:20 on Friday, July 26.

So, Why Does Toronto Love CAFE?

Unlicensed cannabis products inclusive of dried flower (sold with discounts for bulk buys), edibles, extracts, vapes, and a wealth of CBD products not yet available in the legal market have proven a big draw, but CAFE has done more than just deal in illegal weed to ingrain itself with Toronto cannabis consumers.

Community members call CAFE a “respected independent retailer.”

And, CAFE’s website and social media channels promote their company philosophy, one that aims to foster wellness, pursue the greatest good, and cultivate community.

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#TBT to an awesome Pride month at CAFE.

A post shared by C | A | F | E (@iamcafeofficial) on

Their events page lists a handful of social causes including Habitat for Humanity, the Food Bank, Pride, community cleanups, legal aid for cannabis convicts, free turkey giveaways, gift drives, and more.

For those concerned with the prices, accessibility, and availability of cannabis products, CAFE has earned itself a Robin Hood-like reputation. Consumers are concerned that without the illicit source, there might not be enough cannabis to go around.

What’s Next?

Reps for CAFE have stated that they have no plan on folding to enforcement any time soon.

For the time being, Toronto Police Services are focussing on discouraging the illegal sale of cannabis and treating each situation on a case by case basis. Their raids, charges, and surveillance tactics are expected to continue.

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Soj Ramsay-Taylor
Soj Ramsay-Taylor
Soj Ramsay-Taylor is Leafly Canada's Junior Editor, keeping an eye on the intersections between Canadian politics, arts, culture, and cannabis, of course.
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