Pubdate: Sat, 28 May 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Nick Faris
Page: A11


Marijuana advocates decry move as overkill

TORONTO * The crackdown on pot dispensaries shows no signs of slowing
- - not after Toronto police raided 43 of them in a single lunchtime
swoop this week.

Police issued a staggering set of charges in Thursday's citywide bust:
186 for possession for the purpose of trafficking and 71 for selling
marijuana illegally.

They also seized 924 kilograms of marijuana in all its forms, from
dried weed, resin and hash to edibles, bars, oils and pills. They took
$160,000 in cash.

Toronto is not the only city with unlicensed dispensaries, but it has
been the first to move with such speed and authority.

And because t hat approach is so distinct from those of Vancouver and
Victoria, where city officials have pursued measures to regulate these
businesses, Toronto has found itself at the far extreme of a festering
debate: crack down strongly on illicit distributors, or let them be?

"(The raids were) not an attack on the lawful production, distribution
or purchasing of marijuana for medical purposes," police chief Mark
Saunders said at a Friday news conference.

"These locations have a broader impact on the surrounding
neighbourhoods. There is no quality control whatsoever on these
products, and they are marketed in a way to disguise the unknown and
unregulated amount of THC in the products."

That lack of regulation around dispensaries is a "genuine health
concern," Saunders went on, adding he received approval from the
Public Prosecution Service of Canada to pursue criminal charges.

But pot advocates who opposed the raids point out the relevant laws
may soon be redrawn. The Trudeau government has promised to legalize
marijuana in 2017.

And incremental change has already come: in February, a federal judge
struck down part of the regulations that govern medical marijuana in

Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver lawyer involved in that case, said several
Toronto dispensary operators voiced their displeasure to him in the
hours after the raids.

"It's unbelievable, really," Tousaw said. "If there's a problem with
the proliferation of dispensaries in this city, the right response is
to regulate them in a reasonable manner.

"The wrong response is to have some sort of crackdown where you're
threatening landlords and you're scaring patients and you're taking
away dignified access for so many tens of thousands of

Another concern is money. Saunders declined to specify the full cost
of the raids, which were executed over a few hours in neighbourhoods
across the city.

"It's an absolutely disproportionate response to what they claim is a
public health concern," said Dieter MacPherson, president of Canadian
Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.

"This seems like a criminal misuse of police resources when they have
so many other serious crimes that they have to deal with."

He also questioned the police's involvement in the raids on a more
fundamental level, citing a jurisdictional divide: While marijuana
laws come from higher levels of government, it's up to front-line
officers, by and large, to enforce them.

"I think the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario need to get
involved at a reasonable level, instead of passing the buck to the
police, which is the least efficient and least cost-effective tool to
deal with problems like this," he said.

Cost-effectiveness was just one issue on Marc Emery's mind. Canada's
Prince of Pot," who served a five-year prison sentence for selling
marijuana seeds to Americans, said he watched as nine people were
arrested in one dispensary Thursday.

Emery plans to open two Toronto dispensaries in the coming week,
arguing that storefront operations - illegal or not - are a better
alternative to other outlets on the black market.

"It's a colossal expense to achieve no good end," he said. "That's the
difficult thing. These ( dispensaries) are all supported by the people
of Toronto, or else these businesses wouldn't exist . There's probably
enough demand in the city of Toronto by citizens to provide for a
thousand dispensaries.

"Canadians love these dispensaries. They're supporting them, they're
spending money at them. And marijuana is a harmless, benign substance
that only does good things for people. It's completely
counterproductive that the government would close these down."
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