Police say 90 people arrested in connection with Toronto pot dispensary raids
Codi Wilson, Sandie Benitah and Paul Johnston, CP24.com
Published Friday, May 27, 2016 8:58AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 27, 2016 9:50PM EDT
Police say 90 people were arrested and close to 200 charges were laid in connection with a series of raids at Toronto pot dispensaries on Thursday afternoon.
Speaking at Toronto police headquarters on Friday morning, investigators said that 186 charges were laid under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, which included numerous charges for possession for the purpose of trafficking. Police also said that 71 criminal charges were laid, including multiple counts of possession of proceeds obtained by crime.
Dozens of charges were also laid by the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards officers in relation to bylaw violations.
Police say the raids targeted 43 of 88 known storefront marijuana dispensaries across the city. The investigation has been dubbed 'Project Claudia.'
The items seized included 269 kilos of dried cannabis, 71 kilos of chocolate edibles, 129 kilos of candy edibles, 64 kilos of sodas and liquids and nearly $160,000 in cash.
About 23 grams of cocaine was seized at one of the dispensaries, police added.
“Project Claudia is not an attack on the lawful distribution or purchasing of marijuana for medical purposes,” Police Chief Mark Saunders said during Friday's news conference.
"It is a genuine health concern because there is no regulatory process behind this."
Saunders said that when people purchase from unlicensed dispensaries, they don't know what they are getting.
"These locations cannot tell you where it is coming from, nor what the actual content is," Saunders said.
The police chief added that almost half of the dispensaries that officers executed search warrants on were within 300 metres of schools.
“The Toronto Police Service has always and will continue to keep neighbourhoods as safe as we possibly can,” Saunders said.
Protesters disrupt news conference:
But protesters who attended the news conference loudly dismissed the police chief's notion that the dispensaries put public safety at risk.
“Where is the victim,” shouted one protester, who was later asked to leave for repeated disruptions.
A Facebook group was created Thursday night for activists who insist the dispensaries are legal and that police crossed the line by seizing the goods. Several people demonstrated outside Toronto police headquarters this morning to protest the raids, including long-time pot activist Marc Emery.
"This was a mass arrest over zoning bylaws which has got to be the most egregious compromise of our democracy that I have ever heard of," Emery told CP24.
"It is shocking that people are going to jail, people are getting arrested, people are going to have criminal records. People are doing all sorts of great things in these dispensaries and we are being punished needlessly."
According to the website TO Dispensaries, there are 100 marijuana dispensaries operating in the city.
This is despite the fact that only licensed producers authorized by Health Canada are legally able to sell marijuana in Canada. In Ontario, there are currently just 18 licensed producers.
On April 20, Ottawa said it would seek to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana in 2017 which is why pot shop owners say they are working within the law.
Mayor John Tory refused to comment on the raids yesterday but earlier in the week, he reiterated his stance on the dispensaries during an interview at CP24, saying his problems are with the unlicensed dispensaries.
"I don't have any issue with the decriminalization of marijuana, none whatsoever, I support it. It is the right thing to do. But the law is not going to be changed for a year or so... and in the meantime I'm just saying we can't afford to have the Wild West," Tory said, calling the dispensaries "bogus."
Raids were ‘low-key,’ Saunders says
Notices went out to property owners on May 24, warning them about activity on their premises that contravenes municipal bylaws. The notices warned that the owners could be charged and fined if they failed to comply.
Saunders said this warning was part of the police service’s “measured approach” to dealing with the dispensaries.
After the notices were sent out, only one dispensary complied with the directive to cease operations, he added.
The police chief called Thursday’s raids “low key.”
“If a dispensary is up and running it is unlawful unless they have a licence from Health Canada,” he warned.
“We have to have an environment where it is regulated properly by the government so that there is a standard.”
Poll finds residents disagree with raids
Not everyone, it seems, supports such raids, a recently conducted poll has found.
The Mainstreet Research poll surveyed a random sampling of 2,447 Toronto residents on May 24.
“A mixture of landlines and cellphones were surveyed,” Mainstreet said of the poll, which was commissioned by the Cannabis Friendly Business Association.
According to the poll, 47 per cent of respondents said they were aware that medical cannabis has been legal since 2001.
On the topic of police enforcement of “current regulations,” 31 per cent of respondents either strongly approved (nine per cent) or somewhat approved (22 per cent) with enforcement, while a combined 58 per cent either strongly disapproved (17 per cent) or somewhat disapproved (41 per cent).
Seventy-six per cent of respondents said they supported to the use of “cannabis/marijuana as a medicine for pain management and controlling seizures and other physical and neurological diseases.”
A combined 75 per cent of respondents either strongly approved (32 per cent) or somewhat approved (43 per cent) of medical cannabis dispensaries operating in the city, while a combined eighteen per cent either strongly disapproved (seven per cent) or somewhat disapproved (11 per cent).
The poll is considered accurate plus or minus 1.98 per cent, 19 times out of 20.