Toronto pot bust: Why criminal charges when the laws in limbo?


For those interested in the ever-shifting balance in between specific liberty and orderly communities, these are interesting times.

In an operation referred to as Project Claudia, the Toronto Police raided and charged lots of cannabis retail outlets recently. The operation was consulted with an unusually loud outcry. This VA form 9 was plainly not just another drug bust.

Typically, criminal police action arrest and prosecution of a supposed wrongdoer rests upon a solid bedrock of community consensus that the misconduct declared is an affront to community values. For instance, when a body shows up filled with bullets, and an arrest and murder trial follow, there may be terrific argument about the quality of the police investigation, and whether the person charged is guilty.

No one disputes whether a murder prosecution is itself the right thing to do: The social agreement condemning murder is undoubted, and unquestionable. It is this bedrock agreement about the need to arrest, charge and prosecute that offers every criminal prosecution its social authenticity.

The criminal law has a very deep requirement for this type of social authenticity since the state is exercising its most substantial power: the power to forcibly deprive individuals of their liberty. Any denial of liberty that does not rest upon broad social agreement can rapidly unwind our faith in authorities, courts and the legal order more generally.

At present, there is not anything like a bedrock consensus that marijuana is criminal contraband. Legalization was a slab in the Liberals election platform, and brand-new, transformative legislation remains in the works. So the troubling question about Project Claudia is this: Without any social agreement that cannabis circulation and use is morally deserving of criminal law penalty, why have the police laid criminal charges at all?

Because the reality of the matter is that things are not so simplistically binary. Legalization is coming, but legislators quite sensibly are not merely tossing the cannabis file in the shredder and walking away, leaving use and distribution totally to the unrestrained appetites of the most irresponsible consumers, and the unrestrained company acumen of the most unethical online marketers.

Even assuming legalization, a host of vital concerns wait for accountable responses.

What limitations on marketing, for instance, to children, remain in order? What sort of public education about prospective unfavorable effects should accompany legalization? How, when, where, and to whom can sellers sell? Exactly what does a responsible supply chain appear like? How can quality assurance things like product honesty, and consistency of concentration of active ingredients be responsibly achieved?

In other words, legalization is not, and never ever might be, unconstrained liberty to produce and take in at will. Rather, legalization is a shift from outright criminal restriction, to a far more nuanced regulatory program balancing individual consumption options with attempts to deal with recognized and anticipated negative effects.

But the free enterprise is absolutely nothing if not passionate, and fast acting. So as soon as the pretense of criminal condemnation of marijuana failed, the dynamic entrepreneurial spirit moved lots of to hurry into a perceived vacuum, eager to acquire competitive advantage by setting up shop early and often. It is in this context that Project Claudia can be viewed as a loud and clear statement to cannabis industry wannabes and the public at big: Whoa there, not so quick.

The police utilized old criminal laws that everyone understands are outdated. Not perfect, however these were the tools at their disposal, till governments create new ones. Cops decision-makers faced an option: rest on their hands doing nothing till the new laws show up, while an uncontrolled free-for-all unfolded under their noses. Or take up wrongly blunt and rusty tools and risk the loudly righteous indignation of the affected, who would inevitably have substantial sympathy on their side.


Job Claudia was for that reason bound to be met wails of displeasure, a number of them sensible. However, if it settles a little of the wild-west land-rush environment that is the cannabis trade during this time of legal transition without too roughly punishing those caught up in the net then it will have added to orderly social evolution around marijuana use.

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