Marijuana dispensaries see a rise in raids

Graphic by Fani Hsieh

On March 10, Waterloo Regional Police raided one of the five cannabis dispensaries in the area. After a search warrant was presented to Green Tree Medicinal Dispensary on King Street, four arrests were made, as well as charges for the possession with the purpose of trafficking.

Ontario has seen an increase in the number of dispensaries — seemingly more are opening every month.

“We received complaints from the community about the dispensaries. That gives us a sense of how some members of the community feel about them. Once we receive the complaints then often we will launch an investigation, and in this case, it resulted in a search warrant and some arrests,” Sloden Lackovic, Staff Sergeant of the Waterloo Regional Police, said.

In Ontario, there are three legal ways to access cannabis for medicinal purposes. The first is through the mail.

“Contact a licensed producer and the licensed producer would register [the patient] and through the mail they would ship them their medical [cannabis],” Lackovic explained.

“The second way is, as of Aug. 24, 2016 the framework changed to allow people to grow a limited amount of marijuana themselves if they had that license to access cannabis for medical purposes.”

The third way is to have a designated licensed producer to grow cannabis on a patient’s behalf. However, some dispensary owners believe this is not enough.

“The reason dispensaries exist is because there’s not enough product to meet medical demands. There are over a hundred thousand medical patients but there’s only thirty-two licensed producers [in Ontario],” Crystal Woodward explained, manager of Tasty Budds, a medicinal dispensary in London, Ontario.

Jason Wrixon, manager of the head-shop Different Strokes on King Street, also advocated for dispensary shops.

“Everybody has different needs and the ability to cater to those is one thing that dispensaries very much provide. [Dispensaries give] the ability to go in and take a certain set of issues and find something that’s going to best target those, rather than picking off a pre-set menu of four to six items,” Wrixon said.

Different Strokes does not sell any cannabis products, nor its by-products. However, because of the industry, they can provide knowledge to their costumers which come from years of experience that could be difficult to find online.

“That’s exactly what it comes down to, being able to take a patient that’s new to the industry, that’s new to the way of thinking, new to the entire culture and be able to educate them in a way that they can benefit themselves. It’s one thing to roll up a joint or be a stoned high school student, it’s another thing to be a functional adult and treat yourself in a way that actually benefits your life,” Wrixon said.

Lackovic expressed that there is still some confusion to what is legal and what isn’t legal.

“They’re selling marijuana and calling it [medicinal cannabis]

There may be people that have [a] genuine [license to access cannabis], however, the way they’re accessing it isn’t within the framework of the regulation.”

The argument over the legalization of marijuana and the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been on-going in Canada for some time. However, recent developments have the government suggesting the date for the legalization of marijuana in Canada could come as soon as July 1, 2018. According to a CBC article released on March 26, the following month could see a new legislation introduced that would change the laws surrounding marijuana.

“I honestly see that people are far more open minded now and accepting that there’s holistic medicines or alternative medicines. However, the laws haven’t changed yet and we hope that people would respect the laws that are currently in place,” Lackovic said.

“It opens all sorts of avenues for us,” Wrixon said, speaking to how the legalization of marijuana could alter Different Strokes.

“And it would close the door on the prohibition mindset that’s been dominating North America for many decades now. But it would be nice for people to feel like it’s not a dirty little secret.”

As for Tasty Budds, the thought of the legalization of their product means the support from the government that they have been waiting for.

“The lack of support absolutely impacts us; it’s not only damaging for us but also our patients. Every time a raid happens, we lose [a] product that could potentially be helping somebody,” Woodward said.

“It’s very easy to tell that the custumers are frustrated with what’s going on … they feel they’ve had a valuable tool and resource taken from them and that’s an unfair thing,” Wrixon said.

The subject of dispensaries in the community has been an on-going debate not only in the Tri-Cities, but all across Ontario. Like Tasty Budds in London and Green Tree in Kitchener, dispensaries in Toronto are being raided. Whether this conflict will see an end soon is unknown. Lackovic hopes that citizens would continue to operate within the law and Woodward hopes that others would see the relief dispensaries provide.

“Spend a day in a dispensary and see the people that come in. Compare the state from when the patients get here to the state that they’re in from when they’re using … it is benefiting communities.”

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