Pubdate: Fri, 27 May 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: David Rider & Christopher Reynolds
Page: A1


Officers haul away bags of pot in operation targeting shops from
Kensington to the Danforth

Toronto police raided dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries
Thursday, sometimes kicking in glass doors, after condemnation from
Mayor John Tory and written warnings from city staff about adhering to
current laws failed to halt the free flow of pot.

Officers swooped down with warrants on locations from Kensington
Market to the Danforth, laying charges and leaving with bags of drugs,
iPads and other seized items.

Some residents passing the storefronts thanked police, while others
called it a waste of time as Ottawa prepares to legalize recreational
marijuana next year.

Police, who worked with city licensing staff, refused to say how many
shops were raided, how many people were charged, whether the charges
involve city bylaw infractions or Criminal Code offences, or how much
marijuana was seized, in what was dubbed "Project Claudia." The city
said licensing officials visited 45 storefronts.

Chief Mark Saunders will disclose details this morning, Const.
Caroline de Kloet said, adding that the raids "targeted various
locations that have been identified as trafficking in marijuana
outside of the marijuana-for-medical-use regulations." The Star
revealed May 1 that a crackdown was coming in a story about the
proliferation of marijuana shops - some demanding prescriptions, but
others with lax screening that allowed recreational users to walk out
with bags of pot.

Amid the legal haze, pot shops have flourished across Canada. But city
staff say they are legal under current law only if
prescription-carrying patients get their pot, via mail or courier,
from a Health Canada-approved distributor located in an area zoned

Tory called the situation "almost out of control," and a poll showed
significant but dwindling public support for the shops as they
proliferated. As of Wednesday, licensing staff had issued written
warnings to 78 property owners, out of 83 known dispensaries.

Thursday morning, about a dozen officers hit Cannawide on Kensington
Ave. and Toronto Holistic Cannabinoids on Baldwin St. Cannawide
employee Whitney Scheefer said she and others were slapped with
trafficking charges.

"Our door got kicked in. We just got our warning letter yesterday . .
. Something is not f---ing making sense," she said.

Under light rain, police hauled large plastic bags of marijuana from
Cannawide to the trunk of a cruiser, along with electronics, leaving
display cases bare.

Joe Le and Tony Dinh, who suffer from arthritis and brain edema
respectively, dropped by Cannawide only to discover they'd have to
fill their prescriptions elsewhere. "I'm going to be hurting soon," Le
said. "Honestly, the stuff from the L.P.s (Health Canada-licensed
producers) is weak, and you don't have any choice; it's just the one

"Sometimes it comes late, too," added Dinh, prescription in

Ian Dawkins, executive director of the Cannabis Growers of Canada
advocacy group, said he was "appalled" by Thursday's raids and
charges, given the impending legalization.

Dawkins acknowledged dispensaries have cropped up more recently in the
GTA in the wake of a crackdown on dispensaries in Vancouver, in part
because of supposedly lax regulation in Toronto.

"I suspect many of them will reopen, try to find a new location now.
Some of them might go into the shadows," he said. "Because of police
actions, cannabis is just going to be pushed back into the hands of
organized crime."

Dawkins pointed to Victoria, B.C., where pot retailers have also
mushroomed, as a possible model. Proposed bylaws there would declare
existing dispensaries illegal, but then allow variances on a
case-by-case basis. Shops would go through rezoning and reapply for a
business licence under rules governing things such as proximity to
schools and age restrictions.

Some Toronto members of the advocacy group told Dawkins they'd been
slapped with trafficking charges; he warned of litigation against the
city at taxpayers' expense.

Lawyer Kendra Stanyon, who represents several clients raided in
Project Claudia, says "there's a strong constitutional argument" that
dispensaries can legally serve properly licensed medical marijuana

"Access to affordable medicinal marijuana, access to the right strains
and method of consumption is part of the essential right to access
medical marijuana for this recognized group," she said Thursday night.

The current Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which allow
mail-only distribution to patients, were struck down by a federal
court judge in Vancouver in February. Ottawa has until August to draft
new rules in line with the Charter.

Rebecca Gibbins, a mother of four who lives on Kensington Place,
directly behind Cannawide, said the dispensary, launched several years
ago, blended nicely into the neighbourhood.

But nearby competitors gave the area "a completely different feel,"
with consumers "milling around constantly," said Gibbins, who has
complained to her councillor, MP, the mayor's office and police.

"Everyone kept passing the buck. The fees said it was a municipal
licensing issue, the licensing people didn't want to act until knowing
what the fees were doing, the police were waiting for direction."

Police also raided several dispensaries along Danforth Ave. near
Hampton Ave. A man was seen replacing glass smashed out of the door of

Police who raided S.W.E.D. Dispensary were seen removing multiple bags
of what appeared to be marijuana and vials of oil.

"Thank you," a man told an officer standing outside the dispensary.
"It's about time," a passing woman remarked to another officer.

"What a waste of time," said another man.

Robin, who declined to give her last name, arrived at S.W.E.D.
intending to fill her prescription. She blamed city hall for not
following Vancouver's lead in setting regulations and licensing those
who follow the new rules.

"I was in Vancouver, and we didn't see this stuff," she said near the
smashed-in door.

- - With files from Fakiha Baig
- ---
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