Toronto City Councillor on Project Claudia: A Waste of Money

“Project Claudia” was the name of the Toronto police investigation that saw 43 dispensaries raided and approximately 90 people arrested and, of course, it was a waste of money.

The dispensaries weren’t hurting anyone, and any neighbourhood complaints could have been dealt with by more peaceful means.

While city councillor Jim Karygiannis said he has respect for the police chief, on this particular issue, he said, “We do not see eye to eye.

Indeed, Jim, who is also a member of the municipal licensing and standards committee, said that “If we’re going to respect our tax dollars,” then we need to ask ourselves whether paying police officers between $60 an $70 an hour to bust nonviolent criminals is worth the effort.

Last month, Toronto Mayor John Tory asked the licensing committee to work with the chief medical officer of health and the Toronto Police service to provide recommendations on how to deal with the cannabis dispensaries.

But, according to Jim, the raids were a “knee-jerk reaction to a couple hundred emails.”

The Toronto police maintain that “It is illegal to sell marijuana unless you have a license given to you by Health Canada,” despite the constitutional grey area that’s been created by court rulings.

So, while some Toronto residents may favour the city draw up regulations like Vancouver and Victoria, there doesn’t seem to be much steam behind the proposal.

Councilor Giorgio Mammoliti, who also sits on the licensing committee, said the city will only take direction from the province or from Ottawa.

“Until the federal government actually legalizes marijuana, municipalities are not in the position of legalizing them [dispensaries], and that’s what people just don’t understand,” he said. 

And Mayor John Tory recently meant with Premier Kathleen Wynne over the issue, who favours a government-monopoly retail service, like how the province deals with alcohol.

Unless the cannabis community pushes back effectively, with the public on their side, the legalization regime in Ontario will be a textbook example on exactly what not to do.

Legal cannabis may be sold by a separate retailer, but ownership will likely still be connected to the public labour union and liquor store administration.

It seems very unlikely that Ontario will adopt a free and fair market, especially under Wynne’s Liberal government.

If Toronto and the rest of Ontario are serious about a rational cannabis distribution system then governments would be wise to step out of the way.

Raiding entrepreneurs, refusing to regulate the substance, and talking about top-down control by government-monopoly retailers will do very little, if anything, to address the problem.

Toronto, “the centre of the universe” can perhaps lead with an actual solution: allow private neighbourhood associations to regulate commerce within their borders.

Instead of delegating power to people like Councillor Mammoliti who said, “I do not want dispensaries coming up at every corner of each of our communities,” because it violates his sense of aesthetics, the residents of Toronto can actually advocate for a solution that won’t see bylaw officers making $50 an hour enforcing arcane rules and regulations.

Unable to calculate rationally, these 19th-century political fiefdoms fail at virtually everything they put their mind to.

Cannabis legalization is just another brick in the wall.