Unlawful Shops Shut Down

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 12:48 p.m. May 27, 2016

A total of 90 arrests were made and 257 charges laid after 43 search warrants were executed on May 26 at unlawful storefronts selling marijuana and marijuana-infused products.

A man in TPS uniform at a podium
Chief Mark Saunders speaks to the media at a news conference on Project Claudia in front of items seized at illegal marijuana dispensaries

At a news conference at police headquarters a day later, Chief Mark Saunders said Project Claudia, was done in partnership with the City of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards (MLS) and approved by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Saunders made it clear that the coordinated operation is not an attack on the lawful production, distribution and purchasing of marijuana for medical purposes.

“Health Canada has published clear guidelines,” he said. “These locations have a broader impact on their surrounding neighbourhoods. There is no quality control whatsoever on these products and as you can see, they are marketed in a way to disguise the unknown and unregulated amount of THC in the products. About half the locations where search warrants were executed were within 300 metres of schools.”

A small portion of the massive amounts of pot edibles, including chocolate, cookies, candies, along with sodas and liquids, 23 grams of powdered cocaine and $160,000 were also seized.

On May 18, Toronto Police issued civil remedies for illicit activity letters to 44 locations.

“In the letter, it clearly stated that these locations were engaged in unlawful activities and if they didn’t cease that, actions would be taken in accordance with the criminal code of Canada,” said Saunders. “Since that letter was distributed, only one location shut down.”

A wife shelf with a bag of chocolate and chocolate bar display
Chocolate bars being sold at marijuana dispensaries seized

Drug Squad Acting Inspector Steve Watts said there were a significant amount of complaints from community members concerned about the unlawful storefront dispensaries popping up in their neighbourhoods.

Of the 257 charges laid, 186 were under controlled drugs and substance act for possession for the purpose of trafficking and 71 criminal charges, which he said were proceeds charges related to cash.

Officers did not take those arrested into custody, instead releasing them at the scene, said Watts, of the measured approach to the search warrants.

The products seized included 269 kilos of dried cannabis, over 30 kilos of cannabis resin, nearly 24 kilos of cannabis hash and in excess of 27 kilos of marijuana and THC pills.

Watts said there is a genuine health concern because storefronts don’t have city permits.

“There is no proper measuring and quantitative analysis,” he said. “They are all differing from store to store and that is where we run into the health and safety implication for the people that are utilizing these products. There is no standardisation amongst these products that are being either consumed by adults and/or children.”

A tables with soft drink cans and a bag of blue and purple capsules
Project Claudia had officers seizing marijuana edibles such as pills and soft drinks at marijuana dispensaries

Mark Sraga, the MLS Director of Investigation Services said 78 locations were inspected by municipal officers to determine if they were municipal by-law violations.

“Letters were sent to the business and property owners informing them of violations and advising them, they face possible legal actions if they allowed the violations to continue,” he said.

Saunders said police will continue to keep a close eye on unlawful marijuana dispensaries.

“The message we want to get out loud and clear is that if you don’t have a license from Health Canada and you are distributing marijuana, it’s unlawful,” he said. “…These locations cannot tell you where it’s coming from or what the actual contents are unless they are guessing. The other concern is that you don’t even know who you are purchasing from.”

Of the 90 arrests made, one was wanted on a bench warrant and cocaine was found in another location.

“That’s part of the issue when it comes to the regulatory process,” said Saunders. “You have to have environments where it is regulated properly by the government so there is a standard and not just ‘I think I can open a shop and go by my rules.'”

Chocolate chip cookies in labelled clear plastic containers
Chocolate chip cookies allegedly containing marijuana on display at a news conference for Project Claudia
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