The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline

Following recent police raids of over 40 Toronto pot businesses, we look at Canada’s ambivalent relationship with marijuana.

The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline Donald Weber / Getty Images

On Thursday May 26, 2016, the City of Toronto launched Operation Claudia, a targeted raid of the many marijuana dispensaries that have sprouted up across the city in recent months. While some believe that the dispensaries exist in a "legal grey area," that didn't stop police from busting 43 private businesses.

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In a press conference, where he was heckled by pro-marijuana protesters, Police Chief Mark Saunders said the raids were meant to protect the health and safety of the city's residents from an unregulated substance.

The Toronto Police chief's actions are a far cry from comments made by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Since at least 2013, Trudeau has explicitly called to legalize marijuana. Upon becoming the country's leader in October 2015, his government said they will be drafting legislation to legalize marijuana in spring of 2017. It's these pledges from the federal government that have expedited the growth of pot businesses in Toronto.

Here's a timeline of the Toronto dispensary explosion, and Canada's back-and-forth relationship with marijuana.

The Toronto Police Services were not immediately available for comment.

August 22, 2013: Justin Trudeau admits to smoking marijuana "five or six times" in his life, and explains his personal motives for legalization.

“'I’m not someone who is particularly interested in altered states, but I certainly won’t judge someone else for it,” Trudeau said. 'I think that the prohibition that is currently on marijuana is unjustified.'”

Trudeau told HuffPost that when [his younger brother] Michel died at the age of 23 in an avalanche in B.C.’s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in November, 1998, his brother had marijuana possession charges pending against him...“Mich had charges pending against him when he died for marijuana possession even though it was just a tiny amount,” he added. Trudeau said that was one of the factors that led him to first support decriminalizing weed.

September 30, 2015: Justin Trudeau discusses why he will legalize marijuana if elected Prime Minister.

"It is our intention to stop [former Prime Minister] Stephen Harper's approach to marijuana... We need to base our policies on evidence... The Liberal Party is committed to legalizing and regulating marijuana, controlling it in a way that is going to protect our kids."

October 19, 2015: Justin Trudeau is elected Prime Minister of Canada.
The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline Nicholas Kamm / Getty Images
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March 28, 2016: The Toronto Star logs 32 dispensaries in the Greater Toronto Area
The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline The Toronto Star / www.thestar.com
April 19, 2016: The Toronto Star logs 47 dispensaries in the Greater Toronto Area
The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline The Toronto Star / thestar.com
April 20, 2016: The City of Vancouver orders its unlicensed dispensaries to close or face prosecution.

"In just over a week, unlicensed marijuana shops in Vancouver will have to close their doors or be subject to fines and legal action. Andreea Toma, the city’s director of licensing, said it’s too early to tell exactly how many will shutter, but according to figures provided by the city, that number could be as high as 130."

April 20, 2016: The Government of Canada announces intentions to introduce marijuana legalization plan in Spring 2017.

"'I am proud to stand up for our drug policy that is informed by solid scientific evidence and uses a lens of public health to maximize education and minimize harm,' [Canada Health Minister Jane Philpott] said. 'As a doctor, who has worked both in Canada and sub-Saharan Africa, I have seen too many people suffer the devastating consequences of drugs, drug-related crime and ill-conceived drug policy. Fortunately, solutions are within our grasp.'"

April 28, 2016: The Toronto Star logs 69 dispensaries in the Greater Toronto Area.
The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline The Toronto Star / thestar.com
April 30, 2016: Toronto begins to plan a similar crackdown on dispensaries.

“Mayor John Tory and city councillors agree about the free-for-all part, expressing concern about the lack of rules and proximity to schools... 'In the last several weeks these dispensaries are really becoming an issue of concern,' Mark Sraga, director of investigation services for city licensing, told the Star. 'We are developing an operational plan to address these issues under our regulatory authority.'”

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May 9, 2016: Toronto Mayor John Tory visits a dispensary.

“'The notion that these can spread like wildfire across the city and that they can be done in a completely unregulated manner... is just not the right way to go about this,' Tory told reporters."

May 17, 2016: Independent tracker The Big Toke logs 121 dispensaries in the Greater Toronto Area.
The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline TheBigToke / thebigtoke.com
May 19, 2016: City Hall postpones dispensary debate, allowing police to continue plans to shut them down. Business owners are given three days to close.
680News / 680news.com
May 26, 2016: Toronto Police launch Operation Claudia, targeting 43 dispensaries across the city. 90 are arrested and 186 charges are laid.
May 27, 2016: Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders holds a press conference, with protestors present.
The Rise And Fall Of Toronto’s Weed Dispensaries: A Brief Timeline