Pubdate: Wed, 22 Mar 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Greg Mercer
Page: A1


While Green Tree workers face charges, not much is known about

KITCHENER - While four employees arrested at a Kitchener marijuana
dispensary face ongoing criminal charges, the owner who actually
pocketed the proceeds from the illegal sales is nowhere to be found.

When police raided Green Tree Medical Dispensary on King Street, they
seized $17,000 in cash, plus almost $27,000 in marijuana and $5,400 in

Investigators knew the store was doing brisk business, but who was
collecting all that money remains murky.

The black-market business, part of a national chain based in British
Columbia, did not have a business licence registered with the City of

Selling marijuana out of a storefront is illegal.

A man who answered a Vancouver-area phone number reportedly belonging
to the store's operator said he was not the owner.

A company called WeeMedical Dispensary Society, also based in
Vancouver, shares an office and toll-free phone number with Green Tree.

A receptionist there confirmed it was Green Tree's head office, and
said someone would call to respond to questions about the trafficking
charges faced by the store's employees in Kitchener. No one returned
the call. Khurram Malik, a Toronto-based investment analyst who
studies the legal marijuana sector, isn't surprised Green Tree is
mysterious about its ownership structure.

"They're that way by design. In case they're raided, it's hard to
track it back to the proprietor," he said.

In most police raids, low-level employees get arrested, but the people
actually profiting from the operation are harder to track down, Malik

Also known as "budtenders," many front-line staff are typically in
their 20s and earning only minimum wage.

At a Green Tree dispensary in Ottawa raided by police last month,
staff said they were earning just $12 an hour.

"Typically, the employees are let off with sort of a rap on the
knuckles. If anyone is charged with anything significant, it should be
the owner, which is why they're structured in a way that you never
know who actually owns them," Malik said.

Police, meanwhile, say they're still investigating Green

"The investigation is continuing, but we don't know if we'll be laying
more charges," said Staff Sgt. Sloden Lackovic, head of the Waterloo
Regional Police drug branch.

But he adds the recent crackdown on local dispensaries has been
effective, part of a larger police move against the illegal businesses
across the province. They believe there are no longer any dispensaries
operating in the region.

Just a month ago, there were five, including a medical marijuana
compassion club that catered to more than 700 members.

"There's no overt ones, or ones we know about, still operating,"
Lackovic said.

Malik says raids like the one on the Green Tree dispensary this month
are just bumps in the road for the businesses, and there's nothing
stopping them from quickly re-opening at another location.

"They're pretty dirt cheap to set up, and you can make your money back
in a couple months. There's minimal infrastructure. Your main cost in
the actual product itself," he said.

"They know they're going to get shut down at some point, so it's just
a money grab."

Pot dispensaries are big-business, he said. Chains like Green Tree are
part of a booming black market for store-sold marijuana that would be
worth many times the legal medicinal marijuana industry in Canada.

And with the federal government signalling that legalized,
recreational marijuana is on the horizon, companies like Green Tree
are trying to get ahead of the curve, Malik said.

"They're jumping the gun," he said.
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