Dispensaries in Canada continue to fill a void in access to medical cannabis, engaging in this act of civil disobedience for almost 20 years. On Wednesday, August 10th, Toronto police conducted a continuation of the Project Claudia raids on several more dispensaries, in addition to the dispensaries raided last week. Both the TPS and the City of Toronto have other means at their disposal for solving the problems posed by storefront dispensaries that does not include arresting otherwise law abiding Toronto citizens. The rapid expansion of dispensaries in Canada is an indication that Canadians in general are hopeful for regulated, retail access under a legalized regime and that many medical patients are in agreement.

Why are we criminalizing dispensary workers?

Particularly, CSSDP is concerned for the many young people who have been arrested, and will likely have criminal records for the rest of their lives in the wake of Project Claudia. The raids the Toronto Police have engaged in disproportionately punish entry-level retail workers. Cannabis prohibition already affects youth disproportionately in Canada. This demographic has some of the highest rates of arrests for cannabis related offences. Criminal charges have long lasting consequences on travel, employment opportunities, and family relationships. Further, with continued issues around access to medical cannabis, particularly for youth under the age of 25, these raids put many users who rely on dispensaries for medical access at greater risk, The new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) defends the continued criminalization of storefront dispensaries with the fact that the product is unregulated. No other justifications are given for this state of affairs. If the only potential harms of storefront dispensaries are a lack of regulations, then it seems more appropriate to regulate them rather than allow a state of affairs to persist that may cause unnecessary harm. Cannabis is safer than other regulated substances like alcohol. It’s time to take this fact seriously.

Arrests aren’t the answer

CSSDP supports regulated access to cannabis for personal use, and applauds the Liberal government for this monumental step forward in their move to legalize cannabis, and to allow personal cultivation under the ACMPR. However, we urge the Toronto Police to stop raiding storefront dispensaries. Simply arresting those involved with will lead to an exclusive industry and a thriving illicit underground economy post-legalization. “The City of Toronto are in a unique position to set themselves up as one of the most important stakeholders as legalization unfolds,” says CSSDP Vice-Chair, Dessy Pavlova, “and could build a template that would allow dispensaries to be included in future regulations, following places such as Victoria and Vancouver in B.C.” CSSDP is hopeful for the development of an inclusive industry that represents a variety of voices, including those who have been working in this industry and providing medical access and products for decades in Canada.