Pubdate: Wed, 01 Mar 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A1


One month later, they're back at work

Nova Coates recognized the armed man in the black balaclava as soon as
he burst into her Bank Street store.

The clerk had served him as one of her "patients" at the Weeds Glass &
Gifts marijuana dispensary.

"I said to the cop, 'I recognize you.' "

The undercover Ottawa police officer and other squad members raided
Weeds that afternoon in January, hauling away bags of dried weed,
cannabis oils, cookies, candies and concentrates.

Coates and the other clerk behind the counter, Cassandra Morrison,
were arrested. The handcuffs were pink, Coates recalls. "I was like,
'Wow, did you know there were two women working here?' " (Coates
correctly speculated that the pink cuffs were part of a police
campaign to support a breast cancer charity.)

"They were very nice, very polite," Coates says. Customers in the shop
were released. Coates and Morrison were taken to Ottawa police
headquarters, where they spent about 12 hours in adjoining cells
before being released with a promise to appear in court.

Coates pulls out a sheet of paper that lists the charges against her:
19 counts related to drug trafficking and possessing the proceeds of
crime. "And I only worked there for two weeks," she says ruefully.

The arrest rattled her so badly that Coates didn't leave her house for
weeks. She said she resigned herself to losing some friends who would
not agree with her choice to work at an illegal marijuana dispensary,
and embarrassing some family members. "I felt humiliated."

But a month later, both Coates and Morrison are back behind the
counter at Weeds. The store reopened last week.

"'The Pablo Escobars of marijuana.' That's what they call us," Coates
says, who jokes to mask her anxiety. The pair are among 19
"budtenders" who have been arrested at Ottawa pot shops in raids over
the past four months.

Both consider themselves compassionate people helping patients get
their medicine. But as far as the law is concerned, the only
difference between Coates and Morrison and a drug dealer on a street
corner is where they conduct business.

Coates knew the risks. But she said she thought Weeds might not be
raided because, unlike some other dispensaries, it only sells to
medical-marijuana users. (Medical marijuanais legal, but only when
sold by growers licensed by Health Canada, who send it by mail.)

"I came back to work, because I'm already in this deep," she explains,
throwing up her hands. "I'm not going to run away."

Her story helps explain how Coates - "a normal mom, not a criminal,"
in her words - ended up at Weeds.

Coates worked for a men's clothing store chain in Winnipeg and then
Ottawa, a job she loved. She has suited up members of Parliament,
business leaders and grooms, Coates says proudly.

That crashed four years ago when she fell off a ladder at the store,
fracturing her back. She was catapulted into a world of excruciating
pain and became dependent on painkillers. Her doctor prescribed
OxyContin and Percocet, with some Valium on the side because he "told
me I'd be depressed from taking all these (pain) pills, and not being
able to walk around. I went with it because I was crawling to the bathroom."

Soon, she felt like an addict. "I was getting sick, I was getting
skinny. I was in a dangerous zombie zone."

When Coates asked her Winnipeg doctor about medical marijuana, he
dismissed the idea, so she began experimenting on her own with weed
she bought from friends and colleagues.

She found herself relying more on cannabis and less on opioids to
manage her pain. When she moved to Ottawa three years ago, Coates was
so desperate she found a dealer near a homeless shelter downtown to
sell her weed. "I didn't know where to go."

As soon as the Weeds dispensary opened about a year ago, Coates
started shopping there. Her Ottawa doctor helped wean her off
painkillers and suggested everything from physiotherapy to massage,
but also would not prescribe marijuana.

Many doctors are reluctant because there is limited clinical evidence
proving that marijuana is effective or indicating what type and dose
should be prescribed.

Morrison, whose doctor also refused to prescribe her marijuana, takes
it to help her insomnia. "Without it, I can't sleep at night," she
says, her voice breaking. "I can stay up for three days, going crazy."

Morrison, 26, is still shaken up from her experience in the cell,
which she says was "pretty bad" because she didn't have her
prescription anti-anxiety medication with her.

She proudly calls herself a cannabis activist, and dreams of opening
her own shop.

"I love it. I would not trade this job for the world."

Both are buoyed by support from the "cannabis community" - by the time
they were out of jail, a Facebook support page had been created; it
now has 575 members.

And there's no bigger supporter than Morrison's mother, Sherry, who
uses medical marijuana to cope with chronic pain. Sherry Morrison is
organizing a rally at the Ottawa courthouse at 9 a.m. today to support
her daughter and other budtenders and to call for police to stop
raiding the shops.

Marijuana "just eases the pain so I can manage my day-to-day life,"
she says. "So I'm not in bed crying all day.

"Don't get me wrong, it doesn't make the pain go away, but I can
manage it."

Sherry Morrison is signed up to legally buy medical marijuana,

the government-licensed producers are not allowed to sell edibles,
which she prefers over smoking, and products such as cannabis bath

The raids are a waste of taxpayer money, she says.

"The government is not using their head for much more than a hat rack,
I'll tell you that much."
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MAP posted-by: Matt