Toronto dispensary coalition calls for pot charges to be dropped after raids
Adolfo Gonzalez from the Toronto Dispensaries Coalition addresses the press at City Hall, in Toronto, on Monday, May 30, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima)
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, May 30, 2016 4:14PM EDT
TORONTO -- A coalition of marijuana dispensaries say the City of Toronto and its police force made a "major mistake" when they targeted dozens of pot shops and are calling for charges to be dropped against those arrested during the raids last week.
The Toronto Dispensaries Coalition says the majority of the shops offer high-quality medical cannabis products to those who need them.
"The city needs to realize that they have made a major mistake, that they're ruining the lives of people that have families, that have futures," coalition spokesman Adolfo Gonzalez said Monday.
"What I'm calling for is the dropping of the charges immediately."
Last Thursday, police accompanied by city municipal licensing and standards officials carried out search warrants at 43 locations and arrested 90 people, including shop owners and employees.
The operation -- dubbed Project Claudia -- angered some Torontonians, who denounced it as a waste of police resources, while others questioned the timing of the move -- just months after the federal government announced it will introduce legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana next spring.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders rejected the criticism, saying "genuine" health concerns and "significant" community complaints prompted the raids.
Gonzalez said most dispensaries in the city operate by the rules of practice established by the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, which is akin to a governing body.
"They are operating in the open, they are not in back alleys, they are paying their taxes, their are testing their product," he said of the pot shops that had been raided.
"We have a track record of knowing what's in our medicine and helping people effectively."
For many of those arrested in last week's raids, the police action was highly troubling.
Mitchell Cutler, a frontline dispensary worker, said he was had just finished helping an elderly woman who needed a cannabis-infused ointment for her arthritis when police burst in.
"This was a real shock to me," said Cutler, who was charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.
"I think Project Claudia was unnecessary, it was heavy handed."
Noelle Watson, a 22-year-old who uses medical marijuana for relief from the pain caused by a cyst on her spine, said police and city officials perhaps don't realize the impact their raid has had.
"I choose to use local dispensaries because accessing medical marijuana is incredibly difficult," she said, noting that her order for medical cannabis to a licensed producer has yet to be processed.