Ex-cop Fantino wants to open a pot shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market

Published on December 11, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
black and white kensington market toronto rooftop

In the legal Canadian cannabis industry, there may be no more controversial a figure than Aleafia board chair Julian Fantino—particularly not around Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood, which can feel like the physical centre of Toronto cannabis culture.

Fantino, detractors are quick to remember, used to oversee busts of dispensaries in the neighbourhood, but now his cannabis company wants to open one.

Formerly Chief of the Toronto police (from 2000-2005) and Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (from 2006-2010), Fantino is best known for his years of staunch and aggressive opposition to cannabis legalization during his time as a member of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

Those with long memories may recall Fantino’s brief moment as a cannabis hero, when as Chief of Toronto police in 2003 he instructed his officers to stop making simple-possession arrests.

However, he oversaw the Toronto police services during a period in which data revealed the treatment of black Torontonianss was far harsher than the treatment of white ones (taking them to the station rather than ticketing them, and holding them overnight at twice the rate of white arrestees)—at the same time data revealed Black and Indigenous people were already disproportionately targeted for cannabis charges.

Fantino was no friend to cannabis. In 2004, a year after he relaxed simple-possession arrests, he compared legalizing cannabis to legalizing murder.

In 2014, he oversaw an anti-cannabis campaign reminding voters Justin Trudeau had smoked illicit cannabis as an MP and argued, “Justin Trudeau will make harmful drugs more accessible in Vaughan [Ontario]. […] Legalization is an irresponsible policy that only puts dangerous drugs on the streets and in our communities, and sends the wrong message to children that recreational drug use is okay.”

A year later, in the leadup to the 2015 election, he tweeted, “I am completely opposed to the legalization of marijuana.”

Campaigning for a seat he would lose, Fantino told the Toronto Sun, “I see legalizing it or putting it in shops as trying to normalize narcotics, when the truth is there is nothing normal about it. It’s a mind-altering drug that causes impairments and like cigarettes is not healthy.”

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He reported a cannabis company had offered to pay him well for association with his name, but “I would never do it.”

Naturally, that made Fantino’s 2017 decision to enter the medical cannabis industry controversial. Of Aleafia, Fantino argued, “We’re not in the marijuana business. We’re a health delivery system.”

He can no longer make that argument about One Plant, a legal cannabis store Aleafia and partners wish to open in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

In a shot across the bow of legacy cannabis, the supermarket-sized store is proposed for a location at 241 Augusta, nearly directly across the street from beloved pre-Cannabis Act lounge and headshop the HotBox Cafe, which to many has represented the heart of independent cannabis in Toronto since it opened two decades ago.

Municipal activist Pedro Marques has encouraged Torontonians to file objections against the store via the AGCO website.

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Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse B. Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.
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