Pubdate: Mon, 28 Aug 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A1


Ottawa police cracked down on the city's illegal marijuana shops last
week, raiding three of them.

All three establishments restocked their shelves and opened again,
demonstrating how difficult it has become to control the growth of

There are at least 19 shops in Ottawa, more than when police began
raiding them almost a year ago. The dispensaries are popping up across
Canada in advance of the federal government's pledge to legalize
recreational pot by July 2018.

Some Ottawa shop employees say they don't fear being arrested for drug

"If more people are arrested, there will be more volunteers to take
their place," said the man working Friday at Cannabliss on Preston
Street. It opened three weeks ago, and sells to anyone over 19 with
ID. The shop was raided Monday and back in business by Thursday.

Joe, the budtender who was arrested during the Cannabliss raid, said
he and other staffers work there for free.

"I knew it was a risk," said Joe, who declined to give his last name.
"It's something I believe in, that I'm passionate about." Joe, 33,
said he smoked pot to get high when he was younger, but now
self-medicates with various strains to control his crippling
depression and ease the pain of arthritis.

Joe said he was alone in the backroom, where the cannabis is stored,
when a police officer in a black balaclava came through the door. "In
half a second, they had me in handcuffs." (Police) were very
respectful and courteous. They actually talked to me like a person,
not a criminal. I was quite impressed with that."

Joe said he was charged with four counts of drug trafficking and one
count of possessing the proceeds of crime. He was held for about eight
hours at police headquarters. The man in the cell next door had been
picked up in a raid on Vital Medicinals, he said. That shop, on Bank
Street near Heron Road, opened earlier this summer.

A staffer at Vital Medicinals confirmed there had been a raid and that
one person was arrested. The store reopened Thursday.

The third raid was at Lifeline Medicinals on Rideau Street. One of the
two staffers taken into custody during the Thursday morning raid was
back behind the counter Saturday, carefully counting out piles of bills.

The man said he had been charged with drug trafficking, but the
conditions of his release did not prevent him from going back to work.
He declined to give his name.

Police confiscated all the weed, cannabis concentrates and cookies at
the shop, said Tia, a Lifeline staffer who arrived soon after the raid
began. There must have been more merchandise readily available because
Tia was inside the locked store the same afternoon, contemplating
whether to reopen that day or wait in case the police came back. The
shop reopened Friday.

"I'm not ashamed of what I'm doing," said Tia, who declined to give
her last name. "At the end of the day, if we have to put our lives at
risk to help people, so be it."

Tia said the store serves many medical patients who can't find a
doctor to prescribe marijuana or don't want to use the legal mailorder

"We're here to bridge the gap between street dealers and the
unreliable online ordering.

"We try to be professional," she said, noting that the cannabis
brownies on sale were approved by Health Canada. The label on the
package claims each brownie contains 200 mg of THC, the psychoactive
ingredient that makes users high, and was "tested by a Health Canada
approved facility."

Health Canada says that products in dispensaries are obtained
illicitly, aren't regulated and may be unsafe.

The shop also helps the community, said Tia, conducting food drives
for local charities like The Mission and handing out free pizza
several times a month because many of the customers are on social 

Two customers who arrived at the closed shop after the raid said they
supported dispensaries.

"I'm tired of buying from drug dealers," said Roger Lamarre, who said
the cannabis pills and oils he buys at the store help his PTSD and
anger. Lamarre said he spent 21 years in jail, but now works as a
roofer and in construction. "I'm a violent person, but (cannabis)
helps me be on an even keel.

"I've gone from being a monster, hurting people, robbing banks, to
someone who works and actually helps people now."

His partner, Melanie Martel, said she is signed up to buy cannabis
legally to help her anxiety. She whips out empty packages from a
Health-Canada-approved mail-order grower. She ran out, and is waiting
for her doctor to approve a higher dose, so she buys at the
dispensary, she explained.

Saturday afternoon, there was a lineup of half a dozen customers at
Lifeline, all young men who appeared to be in their 20s. "This is a
social threat," said passerby Jojo Diamond Presley, who said he lives
in the neighbourhood and wants the shop closed. "All these kids are
screwing up their minds. As soon as they get a little stress, they get
the dope and they smoke up. They don't have the skills to handle stress."

Staffers at all three of the raided stores said they did not know who
owns the establishments, and declined to name the managers.

A recent Ottawa police report by the professional standards division
said the dispensaries are difficult to investigate because of their
nomadic nature. The "high-level" owners sometimes don't live in
Ontario or even Canada, and employees are often unwilling to
co-operate with police, said the report.

Case in point: a new shop opened a week ago on Bank Street near
Catherine called "Green Oasis."

It's in the same location that housed another shop, "Herbal Leaf," for
a few weeks in April and

May. Herbal Leaf vacated after the landlord tacked a notice on the
door in early June, saying $3,955 was owed for a month's rent and
threatening to change the locks.

The letter was addressed to "Trees Dispensary Society" - the name of
another pot shop that opened on Montreal Road for a few weeks in the
spring before closing down.

Ottawa police launched a series of high-profile raids on the city's
dispensaries between November 2016 and March 2017, issuing press
releases warning that the shops are illegal.

The last five months had been quiet, though, until last week's

The report by police professional standards said the force monitors
the shops but does not have the resources to devote "full-time
resources to individual store front investigations."

The force is taking a "city-wide" approach to the problem and focusing
on closing the shops by disrupting their supply chain, it said.

Ottawa police have not yet issued any public statements about the
latest raids. A police spokesperson said that drug squad officers were
not immediately available to comment.
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