In a series of mid-morning raids Thursday, police shut down marijuana dispensaries operated in Toronto by B.C.-based Canna Clinic.
All seven of the company’s storefront locations in Toronto were raided, as well as five residences, said Toronto police corporate communications director Mark Pugash. There were also three raids in Vancouver.
A bar owner near the company’s Kensington Ave. clinic said police came around 10 a.m. Customers were allowed to leave before police closed the store.
Officers at the scene said they were going to arrest the staff members and seize all illegal drugs.
A number of people who appeared to be employees were seen leaving the store around midday. One was crying, and others looked defeated and resigned.
An employee who did not want to be identified said that the police confiscated the phones of all the employees, except for him, as he told them he did not have one.
“I voted for Trudeau to legalize this, and I just don’t see the damage that I’m doing,” said James, an employee at the Kensington location. “It’s just a small guys getting stomped on.”Many who visited the Kensington dispensary were concerned that raids would increase the use of opioids.
“Do you want an opioid problem? Then continue raiding every single marijuana place that is actually saving people, actually getting jobs, actually bringing in revenue,” said Kofi Wiafe, who tried to visit the dispensary.
Wiafe cited his mother, a cancer survivor, as someone who deals with chronic pain by using the dispensary’s products. “If this place wasn’t here, she would be on opiates, and every single person knows that if you’re on opiates you’re going to get hooked on it.”
“I am just wondering what the police department is doing about the opioid crisis that is currently sweeping Toronto right now,” said Andy Gardener, another visitor.
“I don’t think that they know how to tackle it. They don’t have the resources so they’re tackling and raiding dispensaries because there’s really nothing else that they can do.”
“It’s not like we want to be doing this, it’s a waste of everyone’s time,” said an officer, whose badge read “M. Furfaro,” who was involved in the raid.
At the Queen St. W. store, Toronto police Det. Darren Worth said nine employees were detained in the store.
Worth said all of them had been arrested, and that police would seize “all the illegal drugs” and the proceeds from sales.
Customers continued to arrive at the store while the raid was underway, but were turned away by police.
Staff members were later released from the store, but said the officers had seized their phones.
“We do know we take a risk by working here,” said Laura Glatt, who was working in the dispensary when police arrived.
“Me personally I’m all for the risk because I believe in the medicinal aspect of it, and I believe it helps a lot of people.”
Glatt said she understands the police officers are just doing their job, but thinks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs a better strategy as Canada moves toward legalization of marijuana.
“All you’re doing right now is hurting people,” she said. “I just think it’s sort of ridiculous, a waste of resources.”
Staff members leaving the store said they expected the clinic would reopen within a day or two.
With tears in her eyes, customer Marlene Gannon said it’s “very painful” to see police raid the clinic.
Gannon said she purchases marijuana for her chronically ill mother, who finds it helps with pain, anxiety, depression and a lack of appetite.
Another customer, William Misurka, said he smokes weed to deal with physical and mental pain.
He says cigarettes and alcohol cause much larger problems than marijuana.
“This is better for people. It helps people with actual pain,” he said.
“People drink booze, they get all crazy in their head and fight. People don’t fight when they smoke weed.”
Last week, Mayor John Tory said he was concerned by the rise in the number of rogue pot shops in Toronto a year after the city’s first crackdown resulted in dozens of arrests and charges.
“They are proliferating again in the city. They’re in stable neighbourhoods and causing disruptions to families in my view and disruption to other retailers,” he said.
“That is not something that has been legalized or contemplated as legalized. The federal government has said nothing about having some wide network of shops on every street corner pop up to sell marijuana.”
Municipal licensing and standards staff estimate there are currently 60 outlets selling weed in the city. The lowest number has been 37.
“It’s a constant ebb and flow. Some shut down. Some get closed down. Some relocate. We’ve always knew this would be a constant battle for us and as long as there’s that type of money to be made, these operations are not just going to go quietly away,” said Mark Sraga, director of investigation services.
Tory, a member of the police services board, stopped short of calling for another crackdown.
“I am hopeful that our authorities will decide on their own just because the law is being disregarded, to go out there and enforce the law but I don’t direct them to do that. I’m simply indicating my own concern as the mayor of the city.”
With files from Betsy Powell