Police bar the doors, install alarm after raid at HaZe pot shop
Hamilton police highlight enforcement actions as council prepares to debate legal pot stores in the city
Hamilton police have changed the locks, installed an alarm system and put up signs advising the public they've seized HaZe dispensary on King Street East.
The raid carried out by officers from a provincial enforcement team set up to target illegal cannabis happened around 10 a.m. Friday.
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It's the 11th warrant executed in Hamilton since legalization, according to Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella, but the first where the service has used new powers under the Ontario Cannabis Act to seize a property and keep it closed.
"Today we're going to bar the door, we're going to put up some signage on the building to make sure everyone is aware Hamilton police have closed the premises," he explained.
"We're going to put an alarm on the premises and we're going to use other security techniques to make sure the premises stays secure."
The city and police have struggled with the issue of how to take down illegal pot shops, with director of licensing Ken Leendertse lamenting in July that staff were fighting a losing battle without heavy enough fines to act as a deterrent.
"We are working with the teeth we've been given," he said at the time.
"Is it working? No. We wouldn't have the proliferation of dispensaries if it was working."
Hamilton city council will debate whether to allow private cannabis retail stores in Hamilton on Monday, with some councillors expressing concerns not allowing legal stores could feed the illegal market.
Questions about how aggressively police are pursuing illegal dispensaries have also been raised during the debate. Police are expected to provide a report to councillors on Monday about the costs of combating illegal dispensaries.
Members of the media, including CBC News, were brought to the raid by police immediately after it occurred. The deputy chief said the service made reporters aware of it in part to highlight how committed police are to combating the issue.
"We take this situation very, very seriously," he added. "We have been known in the province as one of the cities that has a great number of dispensaries, we're committed to solving the problem."
On Friday Kinsella said there are currently about 34 illegal dispensaries operating in Hamilton.
A typical raid takes two officers about two 10-hour days to gather evidence, conduct surveillance and deal with community complaints.
That means shutting them down isn't as easy as it might sound.
"It's a resources issue," Kinsella explained. "It takes time to gather the evidence, prepare the search warrants, appear before the justice of the peace … we are systematically working through it and we will continue to chip away at the problem."
In the past, how soon dispensaries would reopen after raids was based on court charges and a shop's ability to resupply — in some cases that meant the doors were open the day after a visit from police.
Kinsella said that won't be happening with HaZe.
"We will respond if someone tries to get back into the premises."
The deputy chief echoed Leendertse's call for stronger punishments.
"We really need the courts to support us on this and give the appropriate charges to deter individuals from reopening or participating in this illegal business."
The raid at HaZe happened after local police closely reviewed the legislation along with consultations with the Ministry of the Attorney General and OPP.
Police will support city's decision on legal stores
Shutting down the shop, installing an alarm and monitoring the building will cost Hamilton police "thousands of dollars," said Kinsella. Police will be monitoring that cost and balancing it against public safety.
He said police will continue to support the city no matter municipal leaders decide about retail stores.
"Our work materially doesn't change. We're committed to shutting down illegal dispensaries and we will continue to do that."