Just a couple days before the Ontario government announced its strict plan for selling weed, Toronto cops raided a dispensary that's been providing a free opioid substitute program to people with addictions.
Police arrested six people from Eden Medicinal Society on Tuesday and charged them with possession, possession for the purpose of trafficking, and possession of proceeds of crime.
Speaking to VICE, Eden's director of community outreach Tyler James said there was roughly $50,000 worth of product confiscated, including security cameras and $10,000 of third-party tested THC pills that were being used in the opioid substitute program. Eden's program originated in Vancouver, where it is part of a study being conducted in partnership with UBC. The dispensary chain decided to mimic the program here, following the guidelines of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
So far, the Toronto program only has six patients, all who identify as being opioid-dependent and who have so far responded positively to taking the 30-milligram THC capsules as an opioid substitute. But James fears that the raids will interrupt Eden's ability to serve these patients.
"If this is taken away, they're going to either have to find their own means of getting THC capsules or revert back to using opioids."
Canada is the second largest per-capita consumer of opioids in the world and is currently in the grips of a fentanyl crisis. Last year, Alan Bell, a clinical researcher and professor at the University of Toronto told VICE opioids are a poor treatment choice for chronic pain but cannabinoids can be very effective at treating it. He said more research should look into substituting opioids with cannabis. In Vancouver, a pop-up dispensary is currently providing cannabis as an alternative to opioids.
During Tuesday's raid James said his security guard was tackled to the ground, despite the fact that he wasn't being uncooperative. He also said the store's door was ripped off, and their security cameras—installed as a safety measure in case of robberies—were also seized by police.
"They ripped off the door when we're like, 'we could have opened it for you,'" James said. "We are not criminals. We train our staff—when police come in, do whatever they say."
VICE reached out to police to ask why the raid wasn't publicized through a press release. In response, Const. Rob Reid said it's because raids happen "all the time."
"I couldn't even begin to estimate how many dispensaries are raided per week," he said, adding it's at least more than one.
On Friday, the Ontario government announced that it will be aggressively shutting down dispensaries to make way for a provincially-monopolized retail system whereby the LCBO will sell weed via standalone stores.
"Consider yourself on notice," said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi at a press conference.
Later in the day, Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair announced $274 million in federal funding for police and border officials to spend on enforcing weed laws.
James told VICE he's disappointed with the heavy-handed rhetoric.
"We were extremely hopeful that the Ontario government would be more inclusive given the knowledge and experience that we have," he said, noting it would be less of a taxpayer burden to allow dispensaries to be operated privately.
He said Eden would like to stay open but is currently not certain about its next move.
"As much as we want to provide reasonable access to our patents, we have to take into the account the fact that our staff will be sacrificing their freedom if an arrest does happen."
Eden runs two locations in Toronto and two in Vancouver which have been licensed by the city. Patients must be over 19 and show proof of a medical diagnosis.
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