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24 Hours' Sarah Hanlon says the raids conducted during Project Claudia were an unnecessary buzzkill.

24 Hours' Sarah Hanlon says the raids conducted during Project Claudia were an unnecessary buzzkill.


We have all heard about the “grey” zone when it come to the green stuff ... so let me try to clear the air.


Project Claudia will go down in history as a massive blunder for the Toronto Police Services. While officials remain ignorantly justified in the closure of almost 50 medical cannabis storefronts, the law firm representing the dispensaries thinks they have a case against the charges and the city. And I agree.

On May 26, TPS raided a number of medical cannabis dispensaries, closing them down, taking their stock and charging their owners and employees. (TPS had even sent out notices to Vapor Lounges that don’t sell any weed.)

Pot advocates, patients with their prescriptions in hand, owners with their strict policies, and employees who never broke the rules were all in disbelief as well.

The operation sparked a conversation about “good” and “bad” dispensaries. Here’s the real tea: there is not a single legal medical marijuana dispensary in Toronto. No matter how sick a person is, it is not legal for them to purchase marijuana in a store. The only legal way to purchase medicinal marijuana is to order it from one of the 27 Health Canada licensed producers (LPs) by mail with a credit card. Weed can be consumed in a variety of ways: edibles, tinctures, teas, and topical creams. The aforementioned are healthier alternatives to smoking marijuana. Well, NONE of these ‘miracle’ options are available under the current Health Canada program.

These are the reasons why dispensaries are needed — inaccessible and expensive government programs have forced individuals to put their necks on the line to open places where patients can learn about the true scope of the medicinal benefits of cannabis and which strains are best for them. But these storefronts are illegal. It’s very ridiculous, unfair and unconstitutional. That’s what the Supreme Court of Canada thought, not just once — but 11 different times.

Patients who were charged for not following the letter of the law when it came to their medical cannabis had their charges dismissed because of such problems with the government program. In the last Supreme Court ruling in February of this year, Judge Michael Phelan called dispensaries the heart of the medical marijuana industry and gave the government six months to come up with a new set of rules and regulations. Since the government has not yet complied with this ruling, Project Claudia dispensaries have exactly the same defence as these previous cases — and I feel confident they will triumph in the same way. They even employed the same lawyer, Kirk Tousaw.

So if the courts, patients, and their advocates all agree that dispensaries are indispensable, why is the government so determined to shut them down after all these years, especially when Canada is on the brink of legalization? Many believe the government attack on dispensaries comes from pressure to do so from some of those Health Canada licensed producers who haven’t satisfied patient need but are frustrated to see their investments take on the challenge of competition. These beliefs take on more weight when you put together the fact that many of these LPs have ties directly to the Liberal government. Chuck Rifici – the co-founder of Tweed, one of the largest and oldest LPs – is also the CFO of the Liberal Party of Canada. Kim Derry – MP and former Toronto Police chief Bill Blair’s long-time friend and ex-deputy chief – has just recently taken a position at THC Meds Ontario Inc. and was even quoted saying he will “certainly give (Bill, who is also the head of the legalization commission) my opinion, whether he asks for it or not.” Something tells me he has already asked for it. These suspect political alliances have patients online calling to #BoycottLPs and recent events in the city were cancelled for fear of being shut down.

The whole thing is a transparent, corrupt nightmare. The resources spent by the city to clog the system with charges that will never stick could have been much better used. Regulations need to be put in place for such licences to exist because the services are needed and they are not going to go away.

Dispensaries are the reason medical marijuana and licensed producers even exist. Their civil disobedience and myriad successful court battles are the reason why the government was forced to create any programs we have at all.

Once we get the first dispensary storefront licences in Toronto, Project Claudia will be remembered as a total bust.

Follow Sarah @flatshanlon