St. John’s Cannabis Catastrophe

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Despite Canadian President Trudeau’s promise to, “legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana will be designed responsibly, with those objectives in mind: to keep it out of the hands of children, and take the profits away from criminals,” with plans to take action as early as the coming spring, many Cannabis Supporters and Officials are feeling surprised and even cheated by his recent backing of the police force in raid of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.  

“We campaigned our butts off for Trudeau because we wanted him to win so bad because we believed what he was saying … Wow, was I cheated or what. I think that’s the way most cannabis consumers feel.” Stated Abi Roach, a director with the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, also alleging the recent crackdown on marijuana use to be the strictest yet, even more so than when under Conservative Stephen Harper. 

This negativity towards Trudeau’s policies is likely to have spiked in this most recent month, and St. John’s police have made it clear that until the law is set in stone, they will continue to criminalize those who are involved with Cannabis. On January 24th, twelve shop owners and employees were arrested for “possession for the purpose of trafficking” after an early morning raid of six separate Medical Marijuana dispensaries. St. John’s police, after a long wait, executed warrants on the following Canadian dispensaries: 

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Medicinal Grounds, 104 Prince William St. 

Medicinal Grounds, 505 Rothesay Ave. 

BCW, 8 Simpson Dr. 

King Canna, 76 Germain St. 

HBB Medical Inc., 199 Chesley Dr. 

HBB Medical Inc., 1714 Rothesay Rd. 

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While many Cannabis Supporters are excited to hear of legalization plans scheduled for spring, until then enforcement or indifference is largely up to municipal law enforcement to decide. Chief John Bates has said, “They’re operating outside the law and at some point in time, as the chief law enforcement officer for a community, you have to make a decision whether you’re just going to turn a blind eye to scofflaws that are operating openly or brazenly, or if you’re going to make a stand and enforce the laws of the land, and that was a decision that I made — that we would not stand by.” And that they did, raiding all 6 dispensaries early Tuesday morning and seizing tons of Cannabis products.  

The mother of an employee who returned to open the doors of BWC Medical located at Simpson 8, only to inform customers they had nothing to sell. “They took absolutely everything,” said the woman, claiming they even stripped the company’s business license down from the wall. The woman said at least one dispensary customer had complained to her that he feared his private medical information had been compromised in the raid, that he’d seen an officer going through the files, however reportedly all documents are accounted for. 

Twenty one police officers were involved in Tuesday’s morning’s raids .

The Saint John street crime unit, consisting of officers from the Saint John Police Force, Kennebecasis Regional Police Service and the RCMP assisted during the raids as well as uniform patrol officers of the Saint John Police Force. 

While the police did not issue any warnings about reopening when the keys were returned, Police Force Sargent Charles Breen did advise through the media on Tuesday, that if the dispensaries reopen, they “will be revisited again by our department.” It is unclear whether these Medical Dispensaries will be able to reopen, and details concerning the size or value of seized items have yet to be released. Though police reportedly remained in the establishments into the afternoon collecting evidence and product, leaving shelves which once help THC and CBD products bare save for promotional t-shirts. 

The unnamed twelve individuals arrested during the raids have been released under disclosed conditions, but under the promise to return for a court hearing on May 2nd, and the understanding that they are not to return onto the premises. However, at this time it is unclear whether those charged with stand trial before or after the official legalization, leaving their fates largely indeterminable. 

Additionally, St John’s police, in the same month, raided Herbal Wellness Center, The Healing Tree, allegedly without a warrant.Officers along with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit Newfoundland and Labrador and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have claimed they executed a search warrant and seized “a large amount” of Cannabis products including marijuana, shatter and hashish, as well as some cash. Two people were also reportedly arrested following the raid. However shop owner Tony Ali, has stated that “they came in…without any warrants, without anything, and the staff member there was very scared because they came in with guns…they just came in and took everything.” Ali even objects to his establishment, of which he owns many, being classified as a dispensary, claiming that it is rather a wellness center which does not sell marijuana but rather connects clients with legal suppliers.  

Ali goes on to explain, “We had the samples of the marijuana products, but we were educating the people how to access those products via a doctor meeting through Skype, and then transfer them over to online, licensed mail-order suppliers,” and that his staff consistently ensures that customers are over 19 years of age and meet appropriate medical requirements before introducing them to a doctor who can then evaluate whether a prescription should be written. 

Officials continue to refuse to speak on the matter, with CFSUE-NL Supt. only commenting “All I can say is that any cannabis dispensary that is opened or going to open is illegal and will be looked at by CFSEU-NL.” Regardless of law enforcements strict and tight lipped approach to interviews, it seems clear that the St. John’s police have decided, at least for now, against the decriminalization of marijuana. Police Chief Bates has stated that he is “not in a position to hypothesize” about the future regarding lawful marijuana possession and distribution, or when those changes will begin to take effect. Though he does express concern regarding challenges which enforcement may encounter such as impaired driving.“But that’s down the road.” He says, “Right here today, we had these shops that in our view were operating illegally and we decided to do something about it.” 

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