Vancouver marijuana advocates cry foul after Toronto police raid dozens of dispensaries

A number of Vancouver’s most prominent marijuana activists were in Toronto this morning (May 27), protesting a massive police action

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A number of Vancouver’s most prominent marijuana activists were in Toronto this morning (May 27), protesting a massive police action targeting storefront dispensaries.

Jodie Emery, a co-owner of Cannabis Culture magazine and one of the country’s best-known advocates for marijuana reform, spoke to reporters inside Toronto police headquarters shortly after an official press conference concluded there.

She argued the raids amounted to “tax dollars being wasted”.

“The police are supporting prohibition,” Emery continued. “Legalization is not happening. If this is legalization, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government lied to the Canadian people.”

Jodie’s husband is Marc Emery, another long-time advocate for marijuana legalization and cofounder of Cannabis Culture. He spoke to dozens of demonstrators who had gathered outside the building.

Dieter MacPherson, president of the Canadian Association of Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries, was also in attendance.

They were joined by other prominent members of Vancouver’s marijuana community who were in Toronto for a cannabis expo taking place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on May 28 and 29.

On May 26, Toronto police staged a coordinated action across the city that saw raids on 45 marijuana dispensaries, resulting in 90 arrests and 186 criminal charges, according to the Toronto Star.

In September 2015, the Straight published a three-part series exploring how an arrest for marijuana, regardless of whether criminal charges are ever filed, can haunt a citizen for decades, complicating job prospects, home ownership, and international travel.

Toronto police chief Mark Saunders claimed that the series of raids, called Project Claudia, was aimed at “addressing issues of community safety”.

The storefronts remain illegal under federal laws that require people to purchase medicinal cannabis through a mail-order system established by the former Conservative government.

Today, some Toronto dispensary operators suggested the raids were encouraged by those larger medicinal marijuana companies that operate as licensed producers. In the past, the licensed producers have complained the dispensaries have hurt their profits.

Like Vancouver, Toronto has seen the number of marijuana dispensaries balloon in recent years, from less than a dozen to an estimated 100 locations.

Under the leadership of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the new health minister, Jane Philpott, recently said the government would table legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in the spring of 2017.

In the meantime, the man tasked with guiding Trudeau’s legalization process, Bill Blair, has repeatedly said police should continue to arrest people for marijuana crimes.

“The laws that currently exist in this country are in force and in effect and it’s important that those laws continue to be obeyed, upheld, and enforced,” said Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and a former Toronto police chief.

Blair said more on the subject in a statement sent to the Globe and Mail.

“Until Parliament has enacted new legislation and new rules are in place to ensure that marijuana is carefully regulated, current laws remain in force and should be obeyed,” he said, quoted there.

At a February 2015 campaign stop in Vancouver, the Straight asked Trudeau what should happen to people convicted of marijuana offences should the Liberals soon legalize the drug.

“That’s something that we’ll be looking into as we move forward,” he said. “There has been many situations over history when laws come in that overturn previous convictions and there will be a process for that that we will set up in a responsible way.”

In recent weeks, Vancouver initiated its own crackdown on marijuana dispensaries, though with softer tactics than those of Toronto politicians.

Vancouver has implemented a regulatory framework for cannabis storefronts. On April 29, the city ordered any dispensary not moving through that legal framework to close its doors or be subject to fines of $250 a day.

According to city statistics dated May 17, 30 dispensaries ceased operations in response to bylaw enforcement actions.

The Vancouver Police Department has consistently said that policing dispensaries is not a priority for the force and that it instead focuses resources on violent crime and harder drugs.

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