Toronto pot shop raids anger marijuana advocates

Jun 17, 2016

Recently, police in Toronto swooped into a downtown market area and raided dozens of so-called unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. Nearly 100 people were arrested and more than 250 charges were laid. The raids have unleashed a storm of controversy.


The day after the raids, Toronto's police chief, Mark Saunders, was shouted down and interrupted during a news conference to explain his force's actions.

"The reason you have 54 or 55 complaints, but what about the thousands of people that these clubs are helping? Where do suggest these people go today, back to the black market, back to the alleyways?," Saunders said.

Saunders did eventually get his point across that the raids were not politically motivated.
 

Toronto Police show off results of pot shop raids.
Credit Toronto Police Service

"It is a genuine health concern because there is no regulatory process behind this, so you don't know if you go into one store and you purchase one brownie or one muffin or cupcake, you go into the next store, how much THC is in this one verses that one? You don't know," said Saunders.

Saunders also said there were more than 50 complaints from the neighborhood where most of the pot dispensaries were located. But angry activists were not buying it and protested outside police headquarters.

"This is outrageous because this plant has never hurt anybody," said one protester.

Many critics say the blame should be laid at the feet of the new liberal government in Ottawa and its promise, reiterated by Health minister Jane Philpott, to legalize marijuana.

"We will be introducing legislation in the spring of 2017 that ensures that we keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and profits out of the hands of criminals," Philpott said.

In the months following statements like that, Toronto witnessed was an upsurge in the number of medical marijuana dispensaries, even though the laws had not yet been changed. That worried political leaders like Toronto mayor John Tory, who suggested they were thinly-disguised illegal pot shops.

"The popping up of all of these dispensaries in what I consider to be unacceptable numbers in neighborhoods is not a reflection of an increased demand for increased marijuana prescriptions, genuine medical marijuana prescriptions," Tory said.

About half of the 88 storefront marijuana dispensaries in Toronto were raided. Police seized 270 kilograms of dried cannabis and about an equal amount of pot-laced foods. They also found 23 grams of cocaine.
    
At least one of the dispensaries was up and running again the day after the raids.