Pubdate: Tue, 11 Apr 2017
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Metroland Media Group Ltd.
Author: Greg Mercer
Page: A1


KITCHENER - Just weeks after it was raided by police and its employees
carted away in handcuffs, an illegal marijuana dispensary is open
again under a new name and "new management."

The former Green Tree Medical Dispensary at 650 King St. E. in
Kitchener was shut down March 10 as part of a police crackdown on the
unregulated storefronts that have been popping up around the region.

Signs for Green Tree, part of a national chain with a shadowy
ownership based in British Columbia, remain on the building - but a
handwritten message taped to a desk inside the business' front
entrance says it's now called Herbal Leaf.

A buzzer controls a locked door that leads to the retail area, where
there are jars of marijuana back on the shelves and a young female
clerk behind the till. A red "Open" sign flickers on the front door.

The employee said she couldn't say who the new management was or
answer any other questions, explaining that "some random guy on the
street" asked her if she wanted a job at the store, and she took it.
The shop reopened on Sunday.

Four employees arrested last month in the raid at the same store,
meanwhile, are out on bail and facing two counts each of drug
trafficking. All of them are in their 20s or late teens, and at least
one of them is seeking legal aid to help with their defence.

Police seized $26,800 worth of marijuana, $5,400 worth of hash and
$17,000 in cash. The owner of the business has not been charged.

With the federal government saying it wants to legalize recreational
marijuana use by July 2018, it's an unusual time for the marijuana
industry in Canada. While police have been pressured to enforce the
rules as they exist, others have tried to get an early jump on what's
believed to be a multi-billion-dollar market.

But police say there should be no confusion around the legality of
storefront dispensaries like Green Tree - they remain against the law.

"The laws have not changed, and we hope that people respect the
current laws," said Cherri Greeno, a spokesperson for the Waterloo
Regional Police.

"We have taken steps to ensure these businesses are aware of the
current law, and informing them they're operating in contravention of
it. Any business that continues to operate risks being further

After the raid on Green Tree and following warnings from police, four
other local marijuana dispensaries, including Kitchener's oldest
compassion club for people with medical marijuana prescriptions,
closed voluntarily.

Sandra Thornton, general manager of the now-closed Organix Compassion,
said it's hard to watch her club's 700 patients struggle to fill their
cannabis prescriptions while another dispensary reopens and continues
to thumb its nose at the law.

"It's extremely frustrating," she said. "The police chief has made it
abundantly clear he wasn't going to tolerate anybody opening up again,
or pay any attention to civil law, which says compassion clubs have
every right to be there and should be there."

It's possible the laws around recreational marijuana may change before
the four charged in the Green Tree raid are processed through the
courts - but if found guilty, they would still be convicted under the
law at the time of the alleged offence.

Darwin Witmer, a lawyer for one of the accused, stressed that while
the law may be changing for recreational users, there will still be
penalties for sellers who don't follow the rules.

"The fact is that currently the law does not permit the sale of
marijuana by distributors without a licence. Also, to legally
purchase, a person needs to have medical approval and follow the
process for obtaining approval," he said.

If the laws around penalties change for people convicted of
trafficking, those charged under the old rules would be entitled to
the lesser sentence, Witmer said.

"If there is a change in the penalty provisions then, if a person is
guilty, they will be entitled to the most lenient sentence," he said.
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