A group of Toronto cannabis shop owners is calling for greater co−operation and understanding between police and their fellow dispensary owners.
The Toronto Dispensary Coalition backed up recent police assertions that there has been a spike in violent attacks against marijuana-oriented stores in recent months.
Spokeswoman Tania Cyalume says pot shop owners are making a mistake by not reporting the incidents when they occur and urged fellow owners to take a less skeptical attitude towards police.
But she also says police have played a part in the situation by carrying out multiple recent raids on cannabis shops across the city.
She says the raids send a message to would−be robbers that dispensaries make easy targets and leave owners vulnerable to attacks. She called on both sides to work together as legislation is expected later this year on the legalization of marijuana.
Last May, Toronto police began to crack down on the dozens of illegal marijuana shops that have popped up throughout the city. During that operation - dubbed Project Claudia - police raided 43 shops and arrested 90 business owners and employees.
Since then, police said they’ve conducted a further 33 raids - about one a week - since June.
Cyalume said the police raids have created the kind of dynamic that has led to the surge in recent attacks.
"It creates a violent community, because if police are waging a war on dispensaries, then obviously criminals and thieves think they can just do it because nobody’s going to report it."
Earlier this week, Toronto police held a conference to announce that marijuana shop attacks were on the rise and often going unreported.
Supt. Bryce Evans said there have been 17 robberies at dispensaries since last June with only nine of them being reported to authorities.
During some of those robberies, Evans said employees and customers in the stores were stabbed, pistol-whipped, pepper-sprayed and shot at.
"I find it disturbing that the owners and operators of these storefronts refuse to co−operate, turn over evidence and instruct their employees not to speak to police after they become victimized," he said.
Cyalume said keeping silent was the wrong approach, adding her personal experience with police suggest store owners would find allies if they’re victims of crime.
"We have had situations where our staff has had to press the panic button and the police were called," she said. "They arrived quickly, and the situation was done, and we didn’t get raided after the fact. We don’t feel scared to call them, but I know other dispensaries definitely do."
Clashes between police and dispensaries are not unique to Toronto, with raids taking place in Halifax, Montreal and beyond.
Earlier this week, a series of raids in Saint John, Nnew Brunswick, elicited a denunciation from activists who felt police were sending mixed messages about the need to crack down on shop owners.
The federal government is expected to table legislation in the spring to legalize marijuana, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that the current laws will stand until new legislation is ratified.
Banner image: MAY 27,2016: Marijuana supporters protesting Project Claudia outside Toronto Police Headquarters.Project Claudia was a crack down on pot dispensaries by Toronto police.