A group of protesters attempted to take over a police press conference announcing the results of marijuana dispensary raids in Toronto, putting the chief of police on the defensive amid questions of who exactly the victims were and what harm was caused by the stores.
Toronto police chief Mark Saunders led a press conference Friday morning on the raids of 43 locations, dubbed Project Claudia, which netted 270 kilograms of dried marijuana, 30 kg of resin, 25 kg of hash and 27 kg of pills.
Investigators also confiscated 73 kg of marijuana-infused chocolate, 142 kg of cookies, 129 kg of candies, 101 kg of bars, 135 e-cigarettes, 457 drinks, 127 kg of oils and spreads and 121 kg of other marijuana products.
“I wasn’t surprised at the large amount and I want to be cautious in why this is important — it’s a health concern. It is a genuine health concern because there is no regulatory process behind this,” Saunders said.
“So you don’t know if you go into one store and you purchase one brownie or one muffin or cupcake, you go to the next store — how much THC is in this one versus that one? You don’t know — and where did it come from, and how is it manufactured, and what is the quality control of the premises that actually made it?”
Police also seized just under $160,000 from the raids and 32 grams of cocaine at one of the locations. In total, 186 possession for the purpose of trafficking and 71 profiting from the proceeds of crime charges were laid against 90 people.
Saunders was repeatedly interrupted by protesters who questioned the motivation for police to shut down the dispensaries and the evidence behind the claims the chief made.
“Is that an assumption or do you actually have documentation from hospitals and stuff?” one protester shouted.
“These clubs have literally been around for 20 years and literally the medical marijuana has been around for hundreds of years and have literally never killed anybody. So how do you justify that there’s a health concern when really it’s the most benign substance you can ingest?”
Saunders attempted to respond to the barrage of questions as protesters, including marijuana legalization advocate Jodie Emery, shouted over him.
“You have 54, 55 complaints but what about the thousands of people that these clubs are helping? Where do you suggest that these people go today?” she said.
Saunders said that current federal regulations have a standardized system of distributing medical marijuana, including regulated THC levels and quality control measures.
“If I were to ask how much THC is in each product, no one here would be able to define that and that there lies the problem,” Saunders said, as one protester continuously asked why exactly there dispensaries posed a danger to the public.
Saunders responded by saying that under Health Canada regulations, “there is no such thing as a dispensary” and the only legal way to obtain a licence to sell medical marijuana is through Health Canada.
Protesters argued that the dispensaries fill a void that Health Canada has not been able to, and that court rulings have allowed a place for dispensaries to exist throughout the country.
“The dispensaries made medical marijuana legal in this country … The licensed producers are supporting a program that restricts access and they benefit from the court cases and the arrests and peaceful Canadians being charged and arrested and handcuffed and criminalized,” Emery said.
“And those Canadians went to court. They won in court and the courts said medical marijuana must be made available. That is why there are licensed producers. They benefit from the dispensaries laying the groundwork and no harm is being done.”
Protesters continued to pepper the chief with questions asking, “Where’s the proof?” “Where are the victims?” “How many people have died off of cannabis ever?” while not allowing Saunders a chance to immediately respond.
“As I stated in my earlier comments, anyone that has a medical prescription for marijuana still has access to it,” Saunders said. “We have not in any way, shape or form hindered or slowed down the access of getting medical marijuana.”
When asked why police decided to suddenly crack down on dispensaries across the city, Saunders responded that it was a “fair question.”
“What I said was I’m working in partnership with the public prosecutors as well as the city to see what the best direction we should go in,” he said, adding that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada was in support of the raids.
“It is a criminal act unless you have a licence to sell marijuana … once I got the acknowledgement from PPSC and had a full understanding of what the health concerns were, that was when I decided to take the action.”
Saunders also denied he was “pressured politically” and said he felt “very strongly” that the charges will hold up in court against those arrested Thursday based on conversations he’s had with legal experts.
WATCH: Toronto Police outline bylaw charges against marijuana dispensaries in massive city-wide crackdown
“I believe the charges will stick,” Saunders said, with Emery shouting that the raids were a “new form of prohibition.”
“This is not about the charges this is about public safety,” he added.
Saunders then asked for Emery and another vocal protester to be removed from the press conference after they continuously shouted over him.
He added that some dispensaries continue to remain active in the city because police had not received specific complaints about them, but added that the investigation is still ongoing.
Dozens of dispensary owners and pot activists protested outside police headquarters where Saunders was holding a news conference.
Marc Emery — Canada’s self-proclaimed “Prince of Pot” who served five years in a U.S. prison for selling marijuana seeds from Canada to American customers — was leading the protest, holding a sign that read “Dispensaries are indispensable.”
WATCH: A quick look at both sides of the debate as cannabis activist Marc Emery disputes the most common complaints about marijuana.