(Adds comment from city)
By Ethan Lou
TORONTO, May 26 (Reuters) - Toronto police have started raiding and shutting down some marijuana dispensaries in Canada’s largest city, a spokesman said on Thursday, in the latest crackdown by local authorities as the federal government moves to legalize the drug.
The police spokesman said officers are executing search warrants and seizing products from stores they believe are selling to recreational users.
At least 45 of Toronto’s 83 known unlicensed dispensaries were targeted, according to the municipal government.
Canadians are allowed to use medical marijuana with a prescription, but recreational use is illegal.
Even so, unlicensed dispensaries have multiplied in Toronto, Vancouver and other Canadian cities since the country’s Liberal government came to power last year pledging to legalize recreational marijuana. Some of these stores have been accused of selling to people without proper prescriptions.
The government has said it will introduce a law in spring 2017 to fulfill its pledge, but in the meantime, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, the government’s point man on legalization, has emphasized the current laws remain in effect.
Toronto’s move comes within a month of a similar operation by Vancouver, which handed out tickets to unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries.
Vancouver’s enforcement, however, did not involve police, who had said they would not crack down on dispensaries as long as they do not sell to minors and are not selling other illicit drugs.
Toronto city spokeswoman Tammy Robbinson said municipal staff were also involved in Thursday’s enforcement blitz, which police dubbed “Project Claudia.” They laid charges for city bylaw violations, Robbinson said.
City staff handed notices earlier this month to landlords of marijuana operations, telling them they can be liable for their tenants’ operations as they contravene the city’s zoning regulations, Robbinson said.
It is not immediately clear whether Toronto police are laying criminal charges as well. It is also unclear how much marijuana was seized, though police said search warrants allow officers to take all the marijuana in offending stores.
Police said they will not comment on the specifics of the operation while it is under way, and that an update can be expected on Friday. (Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Alan Crosby)