As Legalization Looms, Toronto Marijuana Dispensaries Aim to Evade Scrutiny

Article by Mike Hager, The Globe and Mail

As legalization looms, Toronto marijuana dispensaries aim to evade scrutiny

After the battering ram smashed through the front door, the officers quickly rounded up everyone and handcuffed them inside the small shop at Yonge and Wellesley.

The customers were soon let go, but Neev Tapiero, the owner of Cannabis As Living Medicine (CALM), Toronto’s oldest dispensary, was held under arrest for three hours and charged with drug trafficking as part of a one-day crackdown on 43 pot shops last May. Federal drug prosecutors have since stayed or withdrawn charges on 36 of the people nabbed in the citywide sweep while another 10 still face trial for selling marijuana outside Ottawa’s mail-order system for registered medical cannabis patients.

It was the third time Mr. Tapiero had been arrested and charged with trafficking since opening CALM in 1995, which the Ryerson arts undergrad and two friends began as a tiny operation offering cannabis to people suffering from HIV, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and spinal cord injuries.

In order to avoid further police scrutiny, CALM now operates from a secret downtown location. New members must be referred by current clients and forward their medical documents before entering the premises, as well as agree to a list of 18 rules that include: not using their cellphone on site, not smoking cannabis within a two-block radius of the dispensary and visiting only once a day.

“It’s in the rules not to tell people where the address is,” said Mr. Tapiero, his bare feet clad in Birkenstocks when The Globe and Mail visited CALM on a near-freezing afternoon late last month.

A siege-like atmosphere pervades dispensaries still in operation as they contend with security threats from groups of armed thieves, as well as the city’s arsenal of tactics, which includes sending threatening letters to the landlords of the shops and restricting the activities of owners of these dispensaries through bail conditions imposed after raids.

In and around Kensington Market, the largest hub in Toronto, visitors to the handful of remaining pot shops are buzzed in through frosted doors and greeted by imposing security guards. Staff and management deny requests for an interview.

While their counterparts in Vancouver say targeting all illegal pot shops is a waste of taxpayer money, Toronto police are vowing to continue enforcing existing federal drug laws on the city’s several dozen remaining dispensaries in the lead-up to legalization, which could happen as early as next summer.

Read full article here.

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