Pubdate: Sat, 28 May 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Jeff Gray & Laurent Bastien
Page: A6


Thursday's crackdown of 43 Toronto dispensaries is seen as
heavy-handed, and some say they'll reopen

Despite warnings from Toronto police and city officials that more
charges could follow this week's massive pot-dispensary crackdown,
some in the marijuana movement vowed that many busted storefronts
would simply reopen - and be joined by new ones.

Chris Cardozo, whose dispensary in Kensington Market, Toronto Holistic
Cannabinoids, was among the 43 raided on Thursday across the city,
said he would keep selling his products as long as he could.

"I am seeing patients, I am hoping patients will come down or
activists or anyone who is willing to help out with the cause," he
said. "I am fighting this. I am fighting this every which way I can."

Other pot-dispensary owners caught in the crosshairs and facing
criminal charges were more cautious in speaking to reporters about
their plans. The previously vocal owners of the Queens of Cannabis on
Bloor Street West declined to comment until they had met with their

As a protest outside police headquarters swelled to about 150 people,
many smoking marijuana, well-known British Columbia-based pot advocate
Marc Emery pledged to hold a party Friday night to mark the opening of
his Queen Street West pot dispensary.

His wife, Jodie, was among a group of pot advocates who berated
Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders at Friday's news conference
trumpeting the busts, where police put dozens of bags of seized
marijuana-laced "edibles" on display, including chocolate bars,
lollipops, gummy candies and even pizza. One protester was escorted
out at the chief's request.

Mr. Emery claimed the city, which now has an estimated 83 storefront
dispensaries, actually has enough demand to support a thousand. And he
accused the large, corporate, licensed producers under the federal
government's medical marijuana program of trying to wipe out smaller
dispensary owners now facing police action.

He also compared the Toronto police crackdown to the 1938 Nazi
anti-Jewish rampage known as Kristallnacht: "We are being rounded up
like we are in Central Europe in the 1930s."

While the police called their raids a "measured response" as they did
not involve the immediate jailing of those facing drug charges, pot
advocates called the busts heavy-handed, because the federal Liberal
government has promised to legalize marijuana.

At the tense news conference on Friday, Chief Saunders said the raids
were prompted by public complaints and a concern for safety.

"There's no regulatory process behind this. You don't know if you go
to one store and you purchase one brownie, or one muffin or cupcake,
and you go to the next store. How much THC is in this one versus the
other? You don't know. And where does it come from, and where was it
manufactured," Chief Saunders said.

Katey Asaph, a project manager with the Eden Medicinal Society on
Queen Street West, said she and several other employees were
handcuffed for four hours as a half-dozen police searched the
dispensary and seized marijuana. Ms. Asaph said she was not even
allowed out of her cuffs to go the bathroom, which meant needing a
female officer to undo her pants for her.

She said Eden has not decided whether it would reopen in the wake of
the crackdown. But she said she has a lawyer, prominent marijuana-law
challenger Kirk Tousaw, and plans to fight the trafficking and
proceeds of crime charges she faces.

"It's heartbreaking to see so many of our regular clients who rely on
cannabis for medicine knocking on our door only to be disappointed,"
Ms. Asaph said. "=C2=85 I am going to fight for my rights and I am going 
fight for our patients."

Many of the 90 people facing criminal charges were employees in the
stores, some making $15 an hour, according to Adolfo Gonzales, who
says he works as a consultant for pot dispensaries, including Eden.

Criminal lawyer Leora Shemesh says she is acting for a handful of
dispensary owners and employees caught up in Thursday's crackdown. She
said constitutional challenges will be launched in many of the cases,
since previous court rulings have created a legal vacuum around marijuana

"This isn't people handing out drugs, you know, at a school parking
lot," Ms. Shemesh said. "Many of these people are operating, I say,
legitimate businesses for people who really need medical marijuana."

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What are the charges?

Around 90 people were arrested during the busts and police filed 186
charges for possession for the purposes of trafficking and 71 criminal
charges for possession of the proceeds of crime. Bylaw officers also
laid 79 charges, including 48 for zoning violations and 31 for
violating the city's licensing bylaws for selling food without a
proper business licence. The charges come with maximum $25,000 fines
for individuals and $50,000 for businesses.

What was seized during the sweep?

The amount of drugs seized include more than 269 kilograms of dried
cannabis, around 30 kg of cannabis resin, 24 kg of cannabis hash, more
than 27 kg of marijuana/THC pills and 24 grams of cocaine. Police also
confiscated large quantities of edible products, including more than
72 kg of chocolate, 142 kg of cookies, 129 kg of candies and 74 kg of
sodas and liquids. Roughly $160,000 in cash was also seized.

Will the busts help the illegal drug trade?

Critics of the police crackdown, including pot-dispensary owners, warn
the busts will simply force marijuana users to seek more traditional
sources of the drug in the criminal underground. But Chief Mark
Saunders dismissed this notion, saying "not for medical marijuana,

Why were these 43, out of 83 known illegal pot dispensaries, targeted
with this kind of bust now?

Acting Inspector Steve Watts of the Toronto police drug squad said
police responded to "significant community complaints" about the
dispensaries busted Thursday, including petitions signed by as many as
70 neighbours in some cases. He also said the unregulated nature of
the marijuana, including "edibles" meant that consumers have little
idea just how potent the drug they are ingesting might be, creating
what he said was a health and safety concern.
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