Pubdate: Sat, 28 May 2016
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Diana Mehta
Page: A4


Toronto's police chief defends actions, timing amid protests

TORONTO - "Genuine" health concerns and "significant" community
complaints prompted a string of police raids on unregulated marijuana
dispensaries across Toronto, the city's police chief explained Friday
after being criticized by a number of residents for the action.

Police Chief Mark Saunders emphasized that the operation - dubbed
Project Claudia - would not prevent anyone with a prescription for
medical marijuana from accessing the drug.

"I want to be very clear about our intentions," Saunders said at a
news conference that drew a mix of journalists and marijuana
activists. "Project Claudia is not an attack on the lawful production,
distribution or purchasing of marijuana for medical purposes. It's the
health concern. It is a genuine heath concern, because there is no
regulatory process behind it."

The operation angered some Torontonians, who took to social media to
denounce it as a waste of time and police resources.

Others also questioned the timing of the move just months after the
federal government announced it will introduce legislation to legalize
and regulate marijuana next spring.

But Saunders fended off the criticism even as his remarks were
interrupted by angry pot activists and a protest against Project
Claudia took place outside police headquarters. Since March, he said,
the number of marijuana dispensaries has doubled in the city - with
half of those investigated by police located within 300 metres of schools.

After consulting municipal officials and the public prosecution
service of Canada, Saunders said he had to make the "hard decision" to
clamp down on the proliferation of pot shops.

"Once I had a full understanding of what the health concerns were,
that was when I decided to take the action," he said. "This is about
public safety."

Search warrants were carried out on 43 locations by police and city
licensing officials resulting in 90 people arrested and a slew of
charges laid - 71 criminal charges and 186 under the Controlled Drugs
and Substances Act.

About 270 kilograms of dried cannabis, and hundreds of kilograms of
pot-laced food products such as chocolate, brownies and candies were

"These locations have a broader impact on the surrounding
neighbourhoods. There is no quality control whatsoever on these
products," Saunders said as dozens of bags of seized goods were laid
out before him. "They are marketed in a way to disguise the unknown
and unregulated amount of THC in the products."

All the dispensaries targeted had been under investigation for weeks,
and had been issued letters on May 18 warning them they were engaged
in unlawful activities and that action would be taken. Only one pot
shop shut down as a result of the letters.

"These locations cannot tell you where it's coming from nor what its
contents is," he said. "You don't even know who you're purchasing off.
Out of the arrests that we made, two people were wanted." Pot
activists, disagreed. "These dispensaries do no harm. The only harm
being done in association with these dispensaries is the harm of
patients being made to suffer and the harm of peaceful citizens being
given criminal records," said Jodie Emery, wife of Marc Emery,
Canada's self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," who served five years in a
U.S. prison for selling marijuana seeds from Canada to American customers.

"Doctors in this country are not providing access and that's why
dispensaries have become so popular, because the people demand it."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the provincial government didn't
have anything to do with the police raids, but noted that new federal
rules around marijuana would greatly help the situation.

"There's been a real grey area for a while because the federal
government has said they are moving ahead on the legalization of
marijuana, but municipal bylaws don't allow what's been happening in
Toronto," she said. Liberals have said a legal marijuana regime will
keep pot away from children and deny criminals the profits of illicit
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