Toronto police raid storefront pot shops suspected of trafficking
'I guess we're all going back to the street to get our pot,' medical marijuana user says
Raids on storefront pot dispensaries in Toronto where police believe marijuana is being sold illegally are being called "ridiculous" by some critics.
"I guess we're all going back to the street to get our pot," said one man who identified himself to CBC News as John.
He said he came to CALM's dispensary on Church Street in downtown Toronto "to get my meds, but unfortunately the police have broken down the door and told me they were out of business.
"It's going to be legalized in a year, it's kind of ridiculous this is happening," added John, who told CBC he's had a medical marijuana licence for eight years and uses pot to relieve pain from two hip replacements and arthritis in his knee.
Officers from the drug squad, working with the city's municipal licensing and standards investigation bureau, began executing the warrants at noon ET, police spokesman Const. Craig Brister said.
"We're looking at locations that are identified as trafficking in marijuana outside of the marijuana for medical purposes regulations," said Brister. "If people are legally using it, then they have nothing to worry about."
He added that the dispensaries targeted in Thursday's raids are the same ones whose landlords were provided with a letter of caution on May 18.
"This investigation has been going on for a while," Brister said.
Police called the operation "Project Claudia," but Brister didn't explain the significance of the name.
The hashtag #ProjectClaudia began trending in Toronto late Thursday afternoon, and many on Twitter called the raids a waste of police resources.
Chief Mark Saunders responded with a tweet Thursday afternoon.
Enforcing the law and addressing issues of community safety and quality of life is never a waste of time or resources.—@marksaunderstps
Brister said police will release information about arrests or charges at a news conference to be held at 10:30 a.m. ET Friday.
He declined to specify how many shops were targeted in the operation, their addresses or in which neighbourhoods they are located.
Richard Arfin and Barbara Allen were having tea near the Carrot Common on Danforth Avenue when they saw officers "bash in" the doors of three dispensaries across the street.
"They clearly had a plan and were really prepared, it was very much like a TV show," Arfin told CBC News. "People were walking by with their strollers and nobody was really bothered."
Arfin said he doesn't want his neighbourhood to become "pot central" and disliked "the idea of there being three or four stores within stone's throw of one another."
"This is a family neighbourhood," he said.
Allen echoed Toronto Mayor John Tory's sentiment that "medical marijuana dispensaries are verging on being out of control," and he expected the raids to happen.
"I have tremendous sympathy for people who need to use medical marijuana, but this feels like it's going beyond that. Somewhere, boundaries have to be drawn," she said.
Tory declined to comment on the investigation.
Tammy Robbinson, spokeswoman for the city, said municipal standards officers issued charges Thursday against the business owners and operators of the dispensaries for zoning bylaw contraventions, along with other municipal bylaw charges.
Zoning bylaws permit only the distribution of medical marijuana from a production facility that has been licensed by Health Canada as a licensed producer.
Robbinson said any business that is distributing or selling medical marijuana, other than a licensed producer or health care practitioner, is in violation of the city's zoning bylaw.
Earlier this month, the city's municipal licensing and standards department issued notices to 78 property owners out of a known 83 medical marijuana dispensaries. The notices said the dispensaries were contravening the city's zoning bylaw.
With files from Michelle Cheung