'Project Claudia' Shutters 43 Toronto Dispensaries, Is No Surprise

Weed is not yet legal; so nearly half of Toronto's pot shops are shut down.

Toronto, Ontario, police raided more than 40 of the city's "storefront cannabis distributors" in just one day last week. The crackdown on quasi-legal, brick-and-mortar retail shops––known as "Project Claudia"––should be anything but shocking to Toronto's THC-infused populace.

From the Toronto Police Service

"On Thursday, May 26, 2016, at noon, the Toronto Police Service executed 43 search warrants throughout the city of Toronto under the name "Project Claudia.". . A total of 270 kg of dried marijuana, 30 kg of resin, 25 kg of hash, 27 kg of pills, 73 kg of chocolate, 142 kg of cookies, 129 kg of candies, 101 kg of bars, 135 e-cigarettes, 457 drinks, 127 kg of oils and spreads, and 121 kg of other by-products were seized." 

The cops say the human impact of Project Claudia totaled in 90 arrests, with 186 possession for the purpose of trafficking charges, and 71 proceeds of crimes charges were also filed. A police spokesman told local media, "The dispensaries targeted in Thursday's raids are the same ones whose landlords were provided with a letter of caution on May 18."

The letters informed cannabis business owners they were in violation of zoning laws. 

Canadian medical marijuana has been legal and complicated since 2013. In the run up to his election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize recreational pot by 2017, and more than 100 Toronto-area dispensaries sprang up to meet the growing demand.  

"The dispensaries were operating under a 'grey area' that they were taking full advantage of."  *Kasey, a Toronto-based medical marijuana patient, tells The KIND over email. 

"I heard through a friend that it's easier than one might think to get [medical] weed from a dispensary here," says Kasey. "I was told all I would need to do was bring a past prescription for anything to a dispensary, and you'll be approved. I brought a copy of a prescription for an anxiety med I take, and I was able to sign up, get a card, and walk out with tons of edibles and medical marijuana all in the same day. The next day," continues Kasey, "all these dispensaries are getting shut down." 

According to authorities, the Claudia raids took out dispensaries that were clearly in violation of zoning rules––many of the targeted shops were said to be slanging trees in close proximity to schools. The operation did not eradicate the city's medical weed suppliers entirely. 

"We're looking at locations that are identified as trafficking in marijuana outside of the marijuana for medical purposes regulations," a Toronto police spokesman told reporters. "If people are legally using [cannabis], then they have nothing to worry about."

City of Toronto Mayor John Tory told the local Star paper: "Lots of laws might be changed in the coming months, but until such time as the law is changed, the police have an obligation, not just a choice, but they have an obligation to enforce the law." 

To some observers who also work in the weed world of the Great White North, last week's raids were long expected. 

Jordan Sinclair, communications manager at Tweed, a major Canadian cannabis producer, previously described a pre-Claudia Toronto to The KIND, and a similar, not-yet-legal, boom in dispensaries opening up shop in Vancouver: "In Vancouver, [the city has] handed out a handful of $250 tickets to businesses. In Toronto, they haven't handed out any fines, but they've recently announced that [such fines] could be as high as $25,000 for individuals, and $50,000 for businesses."

Toronto lawmakers want to keep moving forward. Monday, the Toronto Board of Health passed a motion demanding "immediate" regulatory clarity on legal, recreational cannabis sales. According to reports, the motion "recommended the board urge the federal government to use a public-health approach when it moves to regulate and legalize pot in 2017."

The clock is ticking, and that makes bringing cannabis from prohibition to profitable industry both tricky and time sensitive. 

*Name withheld at request of source.