Mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary vi­o­lence hits Mid­town

Af­ter a rash of other pot shop rob­beries, po­lice in­ves­ti­gate bur­glary in For­est Hill by Jasen Sag­man

Bayview Post - - News -

A mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary in For­est Hill was the tar­get of a bur­glary last month, in what Toronto po­lice have iden­ti­fied as a string of armed rob­beries at il­le­gal dis­pen­saries across the city. The cir­cum­stances are com­pli­cated. Some own­ers are not re­port­ing the crimes for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion by po­lice, forc­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors to rely on lo­cal wit­nesses to come for­ward. Mean­while, res­i­dents are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned over the safety of their neigh­bour­hoods.

On Feb. 15, around 9 p.m., po­lice re­sponded to a call about a hold-up at Canna Clinic on Eglin­ton Av­enue West just north of Chap­lin Crescent. Con­sta­ble Allyson Dou­glas-Cook, of the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice (TPS), said wit­nesses saw six sus­pects en­ter the es­tab­lish­ment — one of whom was car­ry­ing a firearm. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, the sus­pects left with a num­ber of bags, and the owner and em­ploy­ees fled. No in­for­ma­tion was pro­vided by the owner as to what was taken, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is still on­go­ing.

Lo­cal res­i­dent Miriam Rosen­berg said the in­ci­dent was dis­con­cert­ing for the com­mu­nity.

“It wor­ries me that this busi­ness is in a fam­ily-ori­ented res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hood, bring­ing crime and per­haps less de­sir­able el­e­ments to a nice neigh­bour­hood.”

Al­though Rosen­berg ac­knowl­edged that she’s also heard of thieves tar­get­ing gas sta­tions or break­ing into nearby homes, she said she fears rob­bers are even more em­bold­ened to steal from lo­cal dis­pen­saries be­cause it’s likely they won’t be re­ported.

At a press con­fer­ence in Jan­uary 2017, su­per­in­ten­dent Bryce Evans said there have been 17 rob­beries at il­le­gal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries in Toronto since June 2016, with four of them oc­cur­ing in Jan­uary 2017 alone.

“Dur­ing these 17 rob­beries em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers have been stabbed, pis­tol whipped and pep­per sprayed,” said Evans.

“In at least 10 of those in­ci­dents, sus­pects were armed with hand­guns … [and] in two of those rob­beries, shots were fired within the stores by the sus­pects.”

Eight of the 17 rob­beries were not re­ported by the own­ers or em­ploy­ees, but rather by cus­tomers or other wit­nesses in the vicin­ity. In two of those in­ci­dents, the dis­pen­sary own­ers were charged by the TPS Drug Squad.

Marc Emery, a well-known cannabis ac­tivist and dis­pen­sary owner in Toronto, said he doesn’t make the dis­tinc­tion be­tween rob­bers and the po­lice.

“As long as po­lice are the pri­mary loot­ers and pil­lagers of our busi­nesses, we can­not pos­si­bly co-op­er­ate with these forces of op­pres­sion, loot­ing and van­dal­ism. Un­der the thin veil of the law, they are still an armed gang of peo­ple who hate us and use the me­dia to de­mo­nize us,” he said.

Emery cur­rently owns two Cannabis Cul­ture dis­pen­saries in Toronto and had pre­vi­ously owned and operated one near Eglin­ton Av­enue West and Allen Road.

Michael McLel­lan, a spokesper­son for the Toronto Dis­pen­sary Coali­tion, agrees with the sen­ti­ment.

“The po­lice raids them­selves are vi­o­lent, and since crim­i­nals be­lieve dis­pen­saries will not have the sup­port of the po­lice, dis­pen­saries are viewed as easy tar­gets for rob­beries. Vi­o­lence beget­ting more vi­o­lence,” he said.

With many mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries net­ting be­tween $10,000 and $30,000 a day, the il­le­gal dis­pen­saries are per­ceived as at­trac­tive tar­gets for or­ga­nized crim­i­nals.

“The re­al­ity is that, when there’s a large amount of con­trolled sub­stances and money in one lo­ca­tion, that is ab­so­lutely a tar­get for cer­tain types of sus­pects,” said act­ing in­spec­tor Steve Watts at the Jan­uary press con­fer­ence.

Ward 22 coun­cil­lor Josh Mat­low said he is fed up with the risk these busi­nesses pose to the com­mu­nity.

“They should be shut down by the po­lice un­til there are clear changes to the law with ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tions that will pro­tect the com­mu­nity and our kids and make sure that there are the right rules in place mov­ing for­ward,” said Mat­low. “Right now, it’s the Wild West, and there are far too many of these in­ci­dents oc­cur­ring.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mark Pu­gash, di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the TPS, po­lice of­fi­cers are pur­su­ing another strat­egy by vis­it­ing dis­pen­saries in 55 Di­vi­sion to help staff put safety mea­sures in place.

“We have an obli­ga­tion to pro­tect pub­lic safety,” said Pu­gash. “It’s a slightly un­usual sit­u­a­tion be­cause dis­pen­saries are against the law, but we have an obli­ga­tion to pro­vide them with in­for­ma­tion in the hopes that they will look af­ter not only their staff, but also their cus­tomers.”

McLel­lan said this move by the TPS is a good first step; how­ever, the trust level re­mains low.

“Un­til po­lice and the city an­nounce pub­licly that they are work­ing to­gether with dis­pen­saries and dis­pen­sary staff are con­vinced that … the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided [won’t be] used against them, there is a risk that crim­i­nals will con­tinue to tar­get dis­pen­saries,” he added.

Pu­gash said the TPS is en­cour­ag­ing dis­pen­sary own­ers to re­port crimes and share se­cu­rity images with po­lice.

“They have an obli­ga­tion to pro­tect their em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers, yet too many of them seem to treat that with con­tempt.”

How­ever, he noted that, when a war­rant is ex­e­cuted, there is al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity that the owner can be charged.

“It’s a pos­si­bil­ity, [but] let’s keep in mind that these stores are against the law, and they are en­abling dan­ger­ous armed crim­i­nals. That’s on them.”

The TPS in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing, and no sus­pects have been charged in any of the 18 mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary rob­beries to date.

The own­ers of Canna Clinic did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Canna Clinic at 527 Eglin­ton Ave. W., inset: Marc Emery at Post City’s pot round­table in Oc­to­ber 2016

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