A woman smokes a joint as police officers stand outside the Cannabis Culture shop during a police raid, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Prominent marijuana activists Marc and Jodie Emery have been arrested in Toronto and police are raiding several cannabis dispensaries associated with the couple. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Police on Thursday morning descended on Cannabis Culture stores in Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa, conducting raids on the dispensaries and arresting staff members as owners Marc and Jodie Emery awaited a bail hearing in Toronto. Toronto police announced on Thursday that the operation was known as “Project Gator,” with obvious echoes of last year’s “Project Claudia,” a police operation that resulted in dozens of dispensary raids and arrests.
Canadian media picked up the story as store operators and supporters broadcast news of the raids on social media.
The British Columbia-based couple, well known in Canada as outspoken cannabis legalization advocates, were arrested on Wednesday night at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Marc Emery posted to Facebook on Wednesday evening, prior to the arrest, that he and his wife were headed to Barcelona to attend the cannabis expo Spannabis, which advertises itself as the largest cannabis expo in the world. The couple openly operates 20 dispensaries across Canada, including five locations in Toronto.
Cannabis Culture currently is streaming a shot from outside CC’s Vancouver headquarters, on Facebook Live.
12:42 p.m. PST
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash told the Associated Press that seven Cannabis Culture locations, five in Toronto, one in Hamilton, and another in Vancouver, were searched along with two homes in Toronto, one in Stoney Creek, Ont., and one in Vancouver.
“In my opinion, these places help keep weed regulated. People used to go to dealers.”
Nadia Conte, Toronto dispensary-goer
Pugash said that five people were arrested and 11 search warrants were executed in Ontario and Vancouver on Thursday as part of Project Gator. He said details of the charges were being finalized.
No employees of the dispensaries were arrested, Pugash said.
“Our history of enforcing the law against illegal cannabis dispensaries is well established,” he said. “This is the latest effort in our law enforcement, and I’m certain there will be further action.”
Nadia Conte, 36, was at one of the Toronto dispensaries raided Thursday and said she doesn’t understand why police are wasting resources on these raids.
“In my opinion, these places help keep weed regulated,” she said. “People used to go to dealers but now dealers go to these dispensaries to buy their weed. And, all you have to do is show ID for some places, and boom, you get weed. I think it’s a safer option for most people.”
Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver-based lawyer for the Emerys, said in a statement that “several cannabis activists” have been arrested in addition to his clients.
“Co-ordinated country-wide raids attempting, futilely, to enforce an outdated and harmful law degrades public confidence in the administration of justice, wastes valuable taxpayer funds, wastes scarce police, prosecutorial and judicial resources and benefits precisely no one,” Tousaw said.
Neither Emery’s lawyer, Jack Lloyd, nor Toronto police would confirm Thursday what charges the couple might face, AP reports.
12:10 p.m. PST
Witnesses are saying police have exited the Cannabis Culture location at 461 Church Street in Toronto. This Facebook post is from earlier this morning:
12:00 noon PST
We are hearing reports that the Emerys are currently being held at the Toronto Police Service’s 51 Division headquarters. No separate confirmation yet. Latest is that their bail hearing will be held on Friday, along with others arrested in today’s raids.
11:54 a.m. PST
Lisa Campbell, spokesperson for Toronto’s Cannabis Friendly Business Association, spoke out against the raids on Thursday afternoon. “Law enforcement is sending a strong message that recreational storefronts will not be tolerated in advance of legalization,” she told Leafly’s Randi Druzin. “Dispensaries won’t stop popping up across Canada despite Project Gator. If anything it will fuel the movement more.”
11:42 a.m. PST
There will be bail hearings on Friday for those in custody—Marc Emery, Jodie Emery, Erin Goodwin, Chris Goodwin, and Britney Anne Guerra—lawyer Kirk Tousaw wrote in a Facebook update. Tousaw says authorities are seeking large-value bail amounts and restrictions on their activities if released.
11:37 a.m. PST
Toronto Star city reporter Jesse Winter is on-scene at the Cannabis Culture store on Toronto’s Church Street. He tweets at @jwints.
11:29 a.m. PST
The Toronto Star is reporting that police are “executing search warrants at five Cannabis Culture stores in Toronto, one in Vancouver, and one in Hamilton, in nationwide operation called Project Gator.” Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash added that there are also four warrants being conducted at private residences in Toronto, Vancouver and one in Stoney Creek.
The city’s municipal licensing and standards office confirmed to the Star that they have filed an injunction in the Superior Court of Justice related to seven locations of another company, Canna Clinic.
“The City of Toronto has consistently pursued enforcement actions against marijuana stores in the city. These operations are illegal under federal law and also operate in contravention of the City’s zoning by-laws,” said a statement from licensing head Tracey Cook.
“The new court application commenced by the city with respect to a chain of marijuana stores operating in multiple locations across the city continues the city’s efforts to enforce its existing bylaws.”
The Emerys are currently awaiting a court appearance at Old City Hall in Toronto. Unconfirmed reports have that appearance pushed back to mid-afternoon Toronto time.
11:27 a.m. PST
Lawyer Kirk Tousaw says the dispensary raids and arrests of the Emerys, Chris Goodwin, Erin Goodwin, and Britney Anne Guerra “appear to be based on warrants for Conspiracy, Proceeds of Crime and Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking.”
Police made at least one arrest at a woman’s home in Hamilton, Ontario, and another arrest in downtown Toronto, Leafly contributor Randi Druzin reports. The Toronto bail hearing for Mark and Jody Emery, originally scheduled for this morning, was reportedly postponed until 2 p.m. Eastern.
10:50 a.m. PST
A group of supporters gathered at the Toronto Courthouse this morning, in a show of solidarity with Marc and Jodie Emery. The event was planned last night, prior to this morning’s police raids on Cannabis Culture shops.
Longtime Toronto patient advocate Tracy Curley was there at the courthouse, and reported via Twitter that police were arresting people even at the protest.
Chris and Erin Goodwin arrested at Toronto Courthouse..
— Tracy Curley (@TracyCurley420) March 9, 2017
Curley told Leafly correspondent Randi Druzin that the raids make no sense, especially in light of the government’s plans to legalize and regulate cannabis nationwide. “This is a complete waste of resources,” Curley said. “I would like to see these arrests stopped. If legalization of recreational marijuana is just around the corner, the least [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau could do is stop these arrests.”
“It appears they were arrested at the airport and not as part of a raid,” lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who has advised the Emerys in the past, posted to Facebook on Wednesday night. It’s not immediately clear what charges, if any, the two face. Tousaw told CTV that their detention is “likely related to dispensaries.”
By morning, Tousaw had another update. Authorities in Toronto, he said, had “enlisted Vancouver police to execute warrants” at Cannabis Culture headquarters in British Columbia as raids continued in Toronto.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Pacific, Tousaw, a NORML Canada board member, posted again. At least three Cannabis Culture associates, including two identified on Facebook as a Cannabis Culture store owner and a store manager in Toronto, had been arrested in the raids, Tousaw wrote.
This isn’t the first time the Emerys—or their Cannabis Culture stores—have had run-ins with authorities. Marc Emery has been arrested numerous times, once spending four years in a US federal prison for distributing cannabis seeds from across the border, in Vancouver.
Canada is slowly working toward the launch of a legal, adult-use cannabis market—something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during his election campaign to support—but for now storefront dispensaries remain illegal under Canadian law. Critics of the dispensary raids, which have continued since Trudeau took office, argue it’s hypocritical to target longtime cannabis legalization activists just months ahead of legalization. Trudeau, however, has repeatedly said that current laws must be respected until the change takes place.
Rex Mekkem, a logistics manager at Cannabis Culture Hamilton, said authorities had seized employees’ mobile phones. “Metro Toronto is raiding the Hamilton store. They’ve took every one of staff’s phones,” Mekkem said in a Facebook video, apparently shot using a borrowed device. “They’re just taking everybody’s names and everybody’s phones and kicking us loose, because it has to do with Toronto, they said.”
He emphasized that the raid was being conducted by Toronto police, not local authorities. “Hamilton works with us,” he said. “Metro [Toronto police] are dicks.”
Leafly will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.