Toronto dispensaries have recently endured a wave of violence caused by the Project Claudia dispensary crackdown. The police say 17 dispensary robberies have occurred since Project Claudia first raised her ugly head in May 2016. This should come as a surprise to nobody. When you arrest 500 to a 1,000 young people for selling medical cannabis that sends a message. When you charge them with serious trafficking offences for which jail is a common result that sends a message. When you execute 33 search warrants, seize vast amounts of medical cannabis, and threaten forfeiture of buildings that sends a message to everybody, including the violent criminals. The message is that dispensaries probably don’t trust the police. The violent criminals know that if the dispensaries probably don’t trust the police then they probably don’t want to call the police. The violent criminals have a better grasp of public health principles than do the police, the City of Toronto, or the federal government. It has long been known by public health professionals that prohibition causes crime because it creates lawless zones that lack the protection of the law.
On January 23, 2017 the Toronto police held a press conference to express their bewilderment that dispensaries might be reluctant to speak with them or disinclined to invite them over for a visit. Acting Staff Superintendent Bryce Evans of the Toronto Police Service then went on to say, “I am looking forward to having an open, meaningful and honest dialogue with you and your boards.” Following the press conference Toronto cannabis activist, Tracy Curley, contacted Officer Evans. He advised Ms. Curley that dispensaries would not be charged with running a dispensary if they were to report a robbery to the police, but cannabis in plain sight would be seized. This is a big step forward. If it is true then they should not be shy about conveying this to Torontonians. It should be clear to everybody what happens when you victimize a dispensary.
Toronto’s misadventures in dispensary-crackdowns is a sneak preview for the rest of the country. From Halifax to Montreal to Gatineau to Ottawa through Peterborough, Oshawa, Barrie, Hamilton, Kitchener, and west to Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, all of Alberta, in the Canadian north, in the country, pretty much everywhere except BC, authorities are frantically prosecuting dispensaries. The authorities are making society less safe. After the crackdown, violence will surely follow, authorities will express astonishment, but then authorities, hopefully, eventually, will see the error of their ways and ease the crackdown. Dispensaries are not going away. Work with them. Regulate them. Don’t try to throw them all in jail. It didn’t work in Toronto.
Paul Lewin, @PaulLewinLawyer