Pubdate: Mon, 30 May 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Page: GT1
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Edward Keenan


In Fact, Project Claudia Will Drive Some Trade Back Into The

What the hell was that all about?

It's a question you might have asked yourself after police Chief Mark
Saunders' news conference Friday, which was hijacked by a couple of
activists whose persistent questioning and arguing left virtually no
room for Saunders to answer, for minutes on end.

The journalists in attendance were left to stand around waiting for a
chance to get actual information, and the chief was left standing as
the event drifted along, to seemingly no purpose.

Of course, the same question about Thursday's massive co-ordinated
raids on 43 unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries - the subject of
the news conference - was also left without a satisfying answer. What
the hell was that all about?

The chief and his lead drug detective at the conference were all about
numbers: 43 search warrants executed, 90 people arrested, more than
200 charges laid, $160,000 in cash seized, plus 269 kilos of pot, 24
kilos of hash, 30 kilos of resin and so on, right along to 142 kilos
of cookies baked with cannabis in them.

This was clearly a massive deployment of police resources, executing
43 near-simultaneous raids. By contrast, the famous Project Traveller
guns-and-gangs raids in 2013 - which turned up more than 40 guns - saw
fewer than half as many people arrested, on four fewer warrants. The
raids on Malvern gang members in 2004, described then as the largest
anti-gang operation in Toronto history, saw 65 arrests.

So this operation was bigger than those. But in those cases, in
addition to drugs, the arrests were targeting people police claimed
were violent gang members, with the guns seized in the raids as evidence.

In this one, Project Claudia? Well, in this case, there were 72 kilos
of chocolate seized.

By all accounts, the parties were guilty, essentially, of a licensing
and zoning failure.

Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, but only certain licensed
suppliers are able to sell it, and then only by mail - neither
storefronts nor advertising are allowed. This is inconvenient for both
those who - as their doctors have certified by writing prescriptions
and Canadian courts have recognized - suffer unnecessarily without
pot, and those who try to provide it.

The larger context is that one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's
highest-profile campaign promises was to legalize and regulate
marijuana sales, not just for those with medical prescriptions, but
for recreational adult users. So we might expect impending changes to
the law.

The legal status and planned changes, it seems to me, recognize the
blatantly obvious reality that whatever the health risks of broader
marijuana use (balanced by the therapeutic benefits of some uses), it
poses no significant public safety threat that requires criminal
prohibition and enforcement. And indeed, Chief Saunders did not claim
any public safety justification for the raids, instead citing the
possible health risk of products with unknown strength, in which the
THC level can vary. Further, we learned during the news conference,
there had been neighbour complaints about the dispensaries, in some
cases petitions with more than 50 names on them.

One assumes those satisfied dozens of petitioners, now that the reefer
boutiques have been shuttered, can go back to filing complaints about
uncut grass and proposed third-storey additions and the other petty
nonsense complainy neighbours get agitated about. Bully for them.

But was anyone, anywhere, made safer by these raids? Almost certainly

If anything, this will drive at least some of the trade in marijuana
back into the street market, where THC levels are also unregulated,
but with the added risks associated with street drug dealing - the
ones those other big gun-and-gang raids of the type I mentioned before
are meant to target.

Those 90 people arrested - who Saunders seemed to emphasize were not
dangerous criminals in any conventional sense, by pointing out how the
raids had been designed specifically so they were quickly processed
and released - will now face the trauma of arrest, the expense of
defending themselves, and will have criminal arrest (and possibly
conviction) records that they carry with them as they try to get jobs,
cross borders and so on. Life is suddenly more dangerous and more
difficult for most everyone involved.

To deal with a few points far too quickly: the war on drugs, on the
whole, is an epic disaster and threat to public safety, and should be
abandoned; the legal situation of marijuana dispensing is far from as
clearcut as we're being told, because courts have consistently ruled
that "the government cannot prevent reasonable access to medical
marijuana," as lawyer Dan Stein pointed out in a blog post; and,
notwithstanding those rulings, the dispensaries involved were well
aware they were operating in a potentially dangerous legal grey area,
outside existing regulations and licensing requirements.

In fact, one gets the impression that last point is one reason such
large numbers had sprung up so quickly.

As the government prepares to bring in a new regime for how legal
marijuana is regulated, pot store owners want to stake their claim to
a business model to ensure they have a chance of being part of the new

Such a "disruptive" business approach carries risks, and warnings from
city hall this week that they should shut down should have made those
risks clear.

But it's also true that the last company to take such an approach in
the face of licensing requirements they didn't like was Uber, who,
rather than having its owners and drivers raided and arrested on a
large scale, was rewarded with rule changes allowing the service to
operate legally.

In a city where routine petty lawbreaking that actually endangers
people (parking in bike lanes, say) is routinely ignored by police,
and where distressing levels of serious law-breaking at the other end
of the spectrum (the rate of gun violence this year, for instance) is
so far not being contained by police, the question is:

Why did the police department and the city decide that these were the
infractions they wanted to target with a massive crackdown operation?
What the hell is this really all about?

The answer still isn't clear.  
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D