Article by Shannon Kari, The Globe and Mail
On a warm fall day, the distinctive smell of dried cannabis buds wafts out to the sidewalk of a busy midtown Toronto street. WeeMedical on St. Clair Avenue will at times leave its front door open, providing a clear view for passers-by of what is for sale. Far from secretive, the retail operation is located just a few doors from a donut shop where it is not unusual to see a parked police car. It was one of the 43 dispensaries where Toronto police executed search warrants in late May of this year, yet it’s business as usual now, open seven days a week.
A few kilometres south, at Green Buddha on College Street, a Blue Jays-cap-wearing employee barely glances up from his phone as he sits behind a counter topped with a number of glass jars filled with different strains of cannabis. A colleague was charged with drug trafficking offences a few weeks back, but this appears to be of little concern. “It wasn’t me,” said the employee, who then resumes scanning his phone.
It’s been nearly five months since Toronto police raided dozens of storefront marijuana dispensaries in an attempt to crackdown on the illegal industry. The city-wide sweep, called Project Claudia, led to nearly 200 trafficking-related charges and the arrests of 90 people. The city’s Municipal and Licensing Standards division also issued nearly 80 sets of charges related to bylaw infractions (such as operating without a business license).
This week the city announced the owners and employees of six dispensaries had pleaded guilty to bylaw infractions and were ordered to pay fines ranging from hundreds of dollars to $4,000. Of the 138 Toronto dispensaries investigated by the city this year, it believes 85 have shut down.
Dozens of others, however, continue to operate as the industry, users and frustrated officials wait for the federal government to announce its plan for legalizing marijuana. In the interim, police continue to lay criminal charges. Since the mass raid, search warrants have been executed against some two dozen dispensaries, as recently as this week, according to Toronto police.