Pubdate: Thu, 11 Jan 2018
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Nicole O'Reilly
Page: A1


Workers have been assaulted, but fear of raids stop some from calling

AFTER NEWS OF THE LATEST armed marijuana dispensary robbery, local
cannabis advocate Britney Guerra appealed through a media release for
any store owners who have been robbed to call police. The responses
she got back shocked her. She knew there were robberies going
unreported, but the problem was bigger than she suspected. Within 48
hours she had calls from four different Hamilton store owners who told
her they had been robbed - perhaps by the same people - in the last
month alone.

The issue, of course, is that dispensaries are illegal. The fear of
police raids is stopping some from calling police, Guerra said. And it
seems criminals are banking on owners' fears - a trend she wants to
change in the name of public safety.

"They're getting away with it," she said. "This is a serious

Officially Hamilton police have had six robberies reported since last
April - that includes five in 2017, and the Blue Ox Dispensary robbery
Friday. In four of last year's robberies, police have made arrests.

But Investigative Services Supt. Ryan Diodati says Hamilton police
know robberies are going unreported, and that is concerning.

"We can't do our job properly if we're not made aware of these types
of crimes," he said. "Any robbery and any shooting, just one, is a
concern ... any time you introduce firearms into the equation it's
concerning for us."

But that doesn't mean police are willing to turn a blind eye to

If police are called to a robbery and there are illegal drugs there,
they will hold the scene for a warrant, Diodati said. He recalled one
reported robbery where dispensary staff initially wouldn't let police
inside, but eventually conceded.

A year ago there were 15 dispensaries in the city. At last count city
bylaw said there were 46.

"The first concern is the increase in illegal drug trafficking in
storefronts," Diodati said. "I can't stress enough that all of these
dispensaries are illegal."

Hamilton police have executed 14 drug search warrants at dispensaries
since 2016. According to its latest report, Hamilton bylaw has also
issued 27 zoning charges, 12 business licensing violation notices,
seven bylaw violation notices and four property standards orders.

Yet the businesses continue to grow and with that, the robberies,
which include the use of firearms.

Diodati said police believe dispensaries are likely being targeted
because of cash as much, if not more, than for drugs.

Medical marijuana patients are legally required to buy online through
licensed growers (not storefront dispensaries). The LCBO will be
operating stores in Ontario when legalization for recreational
marijuana use is expected later this year.

Yet activists say this is not enough and the black market will
continue to thrive.

Guerra used to own the Hamilton location of Cannabis Culture on King
Street East before Toronto police targeted locations of the
highprofile store. She was among five, including prominent pot
activists Jodie and Marc Emery, to plead guilty to drug charges last

Guerra said she pleaded in exchange for others seeing their charges
dropped. She agreed to pay a fine and not to run an illegal business
for 18 months. But she says she's still an advocate for dispensaries
and says she's concerned about what's happening in Hamilton.

A year ago she said she knew everyone involved in the local dispensary
business; everyone was an activist calling for broader cannabis
legalization. Now she says it's gotten so big she doesn't know
everyone, or their motives.

When she opened Cannabis Culture, which also included a recreational
lounge, she said she hired security. Since then most storefronts seem
to include security guards and other security measures, yet they
appear powerless in the face of a gun.

That's why Guerra said owners should always comply with the robbers'
demands and call 911, even if it means risking police coming back to
seize cannabis.

The latest robbery at Blue Ox Dispensary at 76 George St., happened
around 11:30 p.m. Friday when two masked men rushed in, assaulted the
security guard, ordered everyone to the ground and then filled a
reusable grocery bag with money and product.

The first suspect is described as a black male, six-foot, 200 pounds
and wearing a bandana over his face. The second suspect is described
as a male, five-foot-eight, about 160 pounds and also wearing a
bandana over his face.

The BEAR and vice and drug units continue to investigate. Anyone with
information is asked to contact Det. Sgt. Emidio Evangelista at

To provide information anonymously call Crime Stoppers at
1800-222-8477 or submit your tips online at
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