Toronto Police Services (TPS) announced this morning the arrest of six people involved in a string of dispensary robberies over the past months.
The report notes that between Friday, March 17, 2017, and Friday, April 7, 2017, four marijuana dispensaries were robbed at gunpoint.
The Healing Centre at 1506 Dundas Street West, Canna Clinic at 350 Broadview Avenue, The Purple Dream at 1363 Dundas Street West, and Cloud 6 at 333 Spadina Avenue were all robbed by young men armed with handguns who stole marijuana and cash.
The report also alleges that two of these males and a third, yet-to-be-identified male, entered a convenience store, assaulted employees and stole lottery tickets.
Dispensaries in Toronto have seen a rise in robberies over the past year, with dispensary owners and police assigning blame to each other.
On January 14, police responded to a call at The Green Leaf marijuana dispensary at 2145 Danforth Ave. According to the police report, three masked men entered the premises, one armed, and took control of three store employees, ordering them onto the ground.
During the course of the robbery the gun was fired and one employee was reportedly pistol whipped. The three men escaped with cash.
On Dec. 21, masked robbers reportedly entered Canna Clinic on Ossington Ave. and took all the cash and marijuana on the premises. According to one customer, some eight employees and 20 customers were ordered on the ground by masked robbers.
Last August, two men were charged after a dispensary in Toronto was robbed with a start pistol that police say resembled a .38 revolver. Cash and marijuana were taken from the premises.
Last October in Ottawa, a dispensary was allegedly crashed into by a vehicle, although no cash or marijuana was stolen.
In the same month in Vancouver, armed robbers were caught on video holding up a Stressed and Depressed dispensary. One man was later arrested in relation to the robbery; full video of the incident can be found here. In May 2015, someone broke into the same store store by smashing a van through its front window.
In Surrey, BC, employees who reported a robbery were arrested by the police last September.
An employee at the WeeMedical store, Nicholas Thompson, told CBC at the time that at first the police were interested in the robbery, but then called him back and arrested him, as well.
“I got a call that the store was robbed and I raced down. Everything was fine. We called the police. They showed up. They were interested in everything.”
“The police called me back to give a statement. As soon as I pulled up, they said I was under arrest for trafficking marijuana through the dispensary,” Thompson said.
After the Dec 21 robbery at the Toronto Canna Clinic, Lawyer Paul Lewin told the Star that he felt the ongoing raids of illegal dispensaries create a situation where owners and employees don’t want to report crimes for fear of also being charged by police.
“It’s kind of like we’re saying you don’t deserve the protection of society because you’re involved with a dispensary. That’s the effect of it,” Lewin said.
Toronto Police have been targeting dispensaries since May of last year as part of their Project Claudia.
Toronto Police, however, say the issue is clear cut: dispensaries are not legal, owners of dispensaries are putting their employees at risk by running these illegal business in the first place, and anyone who doesn’t report a crime to police is further endangering the public.
“I don’t accept this fear of arrest for trafficking,” says Mark Pugash, Director, Unit Commander, Corporate Communications, Toronto Police Services. “I think that’s an excuse, not a reason. These locations are quite overt, no effort is made to hide them… I simply don’t buy that.”
“There was a lawyer in Toronto suggesting that by enforcing the law we were actually endangering people, and I think that’s a perverse argument.”
“Dispensaries are illegal. They will go to great lengths to try to convince people there’s a grey area in the law. There is no grey area, whatsoever. They are illegal.”
“Anyone who doesn’t report a crime, in particular the sort of ones we’ve seen, and let’s not put too fine a point on it, if they don’t come forward, they’re enabling these people to further crimes. I think society generally has a fairly obvious interest in law enforcement catching and putting people before the courts, people who are apparently using guns to pistol whip people and to rob them.”
As for what steps employees can take, Pugash says, again, the responsibility lies with the owners.
“I don’t think this is an issue of what steps employees or customers should take, I think this is an issue for the owners. The owners, by the way, are very rarely are around when warrants are executed, so the people who get arrested and charged are the employees who work there. The owners tend to be at a safe distance.”
Ehrin Richardson, the Vice President of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD) and the VP of the Sunrise Wellness Foundation, a Vancouver based, nonprofit dispensary, agrees that owners and operators have a duty to protect staff and customers.
“I think first and foremost,” says Richardson, “is that the dispensary operators need to take responsibility in informing all staff of the potential of armed robbery, violence in the workplace, that sort of thing. But more importantly, how to deal with a situation whereby you have armed assailants who are demanding money or product or whatever the case may be.”
“I think that’s first and foremost, because a lot of times dispensaries have staff who are just completely unaware of the potential threat. I think that’s the first step, training and informing staff.”
“The second step,” he continues, “is to engage a risk mitigation firm to help them to secure their premises and to ensure that they are not the most attractive target for a robbery.”
Featured Image of RCMP outside a Da Kine dispensary in Surrey BC in 2016. Image via Lift News.