'I didn't know it was illegal': Toronto pot-shop owner says she was blindsided by police raids
'I thought when Justin Trudeau said it was going to be legal, it was going to be legal'
Aamra Hallelujah thought it was a good time to open a marijuana dispensary in Toronto — that is until five officers busted open the door of her shop and placed her and one of her employees under arrest.
Hallelujah's storefront dispensary, Up Cafe, was among 43 such locations raided by Toronto Police on Thursday, when 90 people were arrested and slapped with a total of 186 charges. The raids also saw 269 kilograms of dried marijuana and a large quantity of cookies and other marijuana edibles seized.
It was a terrifying ordeal, Hallelujah said, especially because she now faces criminal charges for what she says is the first time.
"I've never even had a parking ticket," she told CBC News.
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Hallelujah, who already has a dispensary in British Columbia, opened her Toronto location in March, not long after Justin Trudeau announced he was ready to move on legalizing the sale of marijuana. But as Canadians await the specifics of that legislation, Hallelujah said she was blindsided by the raids in this city.
"I said [to them] I really don't know it was illegal. I thought when Justin Trudeau said it was going to be legal, it was going to be legal."
'There's all sorts of things that can happen by mail'
Dispensary owners aren't the only ones caught in legal limbo — their customers are too.
Jeff Dorazio is one of them. He has a prescription for medical marijuana stemming from a painful nerve condition called neuralgia.
But rather than ordering in the drug by mail from a designated medical supplier and waiting for it to be shipped to him, Dorazio says he prefers to go to a shop in person so that he can see what exactly he's purchasing.
"There's all sorts of things that can happen by mail. If I don't have it, my neuralgia cycles back in it's very painful. I'm off work."
"Here, there are different strains," he said. "I know ones that are, say, maybe higher in CBD (cannabidiol) than THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). They do the job but I don't have to be stoned. I can smoke one in the morning and it's not going to knock me on my tail," Dorazio said.
Toronto's Police Chief Mark Saunders told CBC News on Friday that the raids came as a result of talking to community members worried about the number of dispensaries popping up.
But after Thursday's raid many are wondering why some dispensaries caught the ire of police and others did not.
A location called the Green Room on Spadina Avenue was all but turned upside down for example, while another Green Room on Dundas Street remained open for business on Saturday, at least until the afternoon.
Police raids 'not fighting real crime'
For her part, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne has acknowledged the confusion resulting from a lack of clarity around pot regulations, saying, "We're a bit in the weeds...But I do think that as the federal government gets its legislation and its protocols in place, it will be clearer then what the provinces need to follow through with."
But to the head of Toronto's Dispensary Coalition Adolfo Gonzales, operating storefront dispensaries is a victimless crime and raiding them is distracting from what he calls the city's bigger issues.
"That day, our police force was not fighting real crime because they were putting well-intentioned young people in jail."
For Saunders, if dispensary operators are concerned about helping people, they should be applying for the necessary licenses.
That's something Hallelujah says she simply can't afford. Besides, she says, if legalization is already in the works, having a medical license may soon not be a requirement for all pot vendors.
For now though, her shop remains closed. She expects to learn more about the charges against her when she's due in court on June 15.