Pubdate: Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers
Page: A1


Police say they were just enforcing the law when they raided an
illegal pot shop days after it opened, but at least two other
dispensaries have long operated in London without any crackdowns. Why
police moved to shut down Tasty Budd's, when other dispensaries still
quietly operate, is one question that emerged in the fallout Thursday,
but police weren't providing any immediate answers.

Officers descended on Tasty Budd's on Wharncliffe Road Wednesday,
seizing more than $13,000 in marijuana products and charging the
store's franchisee and an employee with drug-related offences.

The move came after the chain's founder publicly declared plans to
open, in defiance of the law. "The public expects us to respond to
criminal activity that's being engaged in within the city," said
deputy police chief Daryl Longworth, who wouldn't comment on whether
police plan to go after the city's other dispensaries. Mal McMeekin,
founder of the Tasty Budd's franchise, said last Friday's high-profile
store opening may have thrust the business onto the police radar.

"I wouldn't have done things differently," said McMeekin. "It's
unfortunate, the outcome, but at the same time, people need to know
that you're there and you're willing to help them." Dispensaries are
illegal in Canada under a federal law that limits sale of marijuana
for medicinal use to a few dozen government-approved commercial producers.

The former Conservative government switched to that system from an
older one that let approved users grow their own pot, after the number
of Canadians doing that ballooned.

The dispensaries operate in a grey area of the law. They say they buy
their product from the growyour-own individuals who were approved
under the old system and permitted to provide pot to other medicinal
users. The dispensaries also insist they're providing a needed service
for prescription pot users.

Two other dispensaries - much less flashy than Tasty Budd's, both
calling themselves "compassion clubs" - still operate in London. One,
the London Compassion Society, has been in business for more than two
decades, according to its website. The other is Healing Health Compassion.

The first dispensary did not reply to a Free Press email seeking
comment. The second declined comment.

Both dispensaries and compassion clubs, which require members to
produce a valid licence to use marijuana, sell cannabis products to
approved medical users. But compassion clubs differ in that they're
often registered as non-profit organizations and offer lower
prices,marijuana advocate Jodi Emery said from Los Angeles.

Emery, wife of former Londoner Marc Emery, a crusader for relaxed pot
laws who was jailed in the U.S. for selling pot seeds online in that
market, has partnered with investors to open dispensaries across
Canada, including one in Toronto that reopened one day after police
raided it last week. Known as the Princess of Pot, Jodi Emery said she
applauds dispensaries that remain open after police crackdowns.

"It takes courage, though, because with civil disobedience comes the
risk of punishment," she said. "But that punishment is what
demonstrates the injustice of the law."

London police have charged Tim Balogh, 28, and Josh Flannery, 23, with
two counts of drug trafficking and two counts of possessing a
controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking. They are to
appear in court Sept. 30, said Const. Kim Flett.

Balogh bought the rights to open the London Tasty Budd's franchise,
while Flannery worked at the store.

McMeekin, who has five other Tasty Budd's locations on the East Coast,
has vowed to reopen the London store.

An estimated 350 dispensaries have popped up across Canada in
anticipation of relaxed pot laws under Justin Trudeau's Liberal
government, which has vowed to introduce legislation to legalize
marijuana next spring. Cities have responded differently to the surge
in pot shops. While Toronto police have been raiding the businesses
since May, city officials in Vancouver have licensed some of the
dispensaries and fined others operating without required permits.
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