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The Toronto pot bust: Everything you need to know

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, surrounded by marijuana products including edibles and oils, speaks during a press conference to discuss results of a series of police raids conducted on companies allegedly selling marijuana illegally, dubbed Project Claudia, in Toronto on Friday, May 27, 2016.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A day after Toronto Police swept through the city's marijuana retailers, arresting around 90 people and seizing hundreds of kilograms of drugs, Chief Mark Saunders faced pointed questions from a crowd of protesters over the police's decision to crack down on the trade.

At a tense press conference on Friday, Chief Saunders said the operation, named Project Claudia, was not an attack on lawful marijuana use, and that it had been prompted by complaints from residents and by police concerns over the health of those who purchase the drug at dispensaries.

"There's no regulatory process behind this. You don't know if you go to one store and you purchase one brownie, or one muffin or cupcake, and you go to the next store. How much THC is in this one versus the other? You don't know. And where does it come from, and where was it manufactured," Chief Saunders said.

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What are the charges?

Around 90 people were arrested during the busts, and police filed 186 charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and 71 criminal charges related to the seized cash.

What was seized during the sweep?

The massive amount of drugs seized include more than 269 kilograms of dried cannabis, around 30 kilograms of cannabis resin, 24 kilograms of cannabis hash, more than 27 kilograms of marijuana/THC pills and 24 grams of cocaine. Police also confiscated large quantities of edibles including more than 72 kilograms of chocolate, 142 kilograms of cookies, 129 kilograms of candies and 74 kilograms of sodas and liquids. Roughly $160,000 in cash was also seized.

Can or will some stores simply reopen?

Many business owners have said they plan on reopening their stores despite the looming threat of another crackdown, according to Dieter MacPherson, the head of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. "That's going to be up to each individual dispensary to decide if they want to continue to operate, if they want to operate as an act of civil disobedience," he said. "It always comes with the risk of criminal prosecution. Each one will have to decide on their own."

Will the closure help the illegal drug trade?

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Critics of the police crackdown, including pot-dispensary owners, warn the busts will simply force marijuana users to seek more traditional sources of the drug in the criminal underground. But Chief Saunders dismissed this notion, saying "not for medical marijuana, no."

What's the city's next move?

Police say the other at least 40-odd dispensaries across the city that were not raided Thursday could still face similar action, and that their investigation is ongoing. City officials also warn there could be more fines imposed for zoning violations and other bylaw infractions, including action against landlords, if stores remain open.

Why were these 43, out of 83 known illegal pot dispensaries, targeted with this kind of bust now?

Acting Inspector Steve Watts of the Toronto Police drug squad said police responded to "significant community complaints" about the dispensaries busted Thursday, including petitions signed by as many as 70 neighbours in some cases. Chief Saunders said half of those targeted were within 300 metres of a school. He also said the unregulated nature of the marijuana, including "edibles" such as chocolate bars and gummy candies, meant that consumers have little idea just how potent the drug they are ingesting might be, creating what he said was a health and safety concern.

Were there any client records seized?

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Police would not say if any client records were seized, but they said customers of any of the pot dispensaries busted would not be targeted.

Why was it called Project Claudia?

It's not clear. Chief Saunders said the name was chosen to reflect the way the problem was growing so rapidly, but did not elaborate. Constable Wendy Drummond said the name was chosen to resemble the way weather services name hurricanes, likening the growth of pot dispensaries across the city to a fast-developing storm.

What city bylaw charges were laid?

Mark Sraga, the City of Toronto's head of investigation services, said bylaw officers, working with police, had inspected 78 pot dispensaries across the city, warning business owners and landlords they could face actions. Police and bylaw officers conducted raids at 43 locations on Thursday and 79 charges were laid, including 48 for zoning violations and 31 for violating the city's licensing bylaws for selling food without a proper business licence. The charges come with maximum $25,000 fines for individuals and $50,000 for businesses.

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About the Author
Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

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