Protesters rallied at Toronto police headquarters Friday, vowing to remain there all day following what is believed to the be the largest mass raid of medical marijuana dispensaries in the country’s history.
At noon on Thursday, Toronto police raided more than 40 dispensaries, arresting 90 people at 43 dispensaries and laid out 186 charges yesterday in mass pot raids across Ontario’s capital city.
Police reportedly seized 269 kilos of dried marijuana, 30 kilos of hash, 142 kilos of cookies, and 129 kilos of candies.
Seventy-one criminal charges of trafficking or possession were lobbied against those taken into custody. Dispensary owners anticipated the raids after police and the municipal licensing committee sent warning letters to 78 shops last week alerting them they could be in violation of zoning laws.
Some marijuana shops closed right away due to the possibility of receiving a $50,000 fine. The investigation, “dubbed” Project Claudia, targeted shops thought to be trafficking marijuana and in violation of other laws.
Marijuana legalization in Canada seems to be further ahead than many other countries. The Liberal government there has promised to "legalize, regulate, and restrict" recreational cannabis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refuses to decriminalize, opting instead only for government-regulated legalization. The lack of a regulatory framework has created a gray market in marijuana which culminated in yesterday’s raids.
Canada Health Minister, Jane Philpott, announced at the United Nations that Canada would start implementing its legal marijuana regime in 2017.
"We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem," Philpott told an audience at the United Nations General Assembly.
Toronto Police spokesperson Constable Caroline de Kloet said of the arrests: "We're acting accordingly with the information that we have.”
In his press conference, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders acknowledged the controversy over police actions, but remained adamant the department had done the right thing.
"There is no quality control whatsoever on these products,” said Saunders. He noted that roughly half of the dispensaries raided operated within 300 meters of a school.
"It is a genuine health concern," Saunders claimed of dispensaries, "because there's no regulation behind this." Saunders says he "was not pressured politically" to make the raids.
"I feel very strongly that the charges will stick,” he said. “Patients who need marijuana should obtain a prescription.”
Some dispensaries stayed open despite the raids. For instance, while one dispensary, Cannawide, was raided, another dispensary five doors down, Canna Clinic, remained open.