Pubdate: Wed, 24 Jan 2018
Source: Regina Leader-Post (CN SN)
Copyright: 2018 The Leader-Post Ltd.
Author: Arthur White-Crummey
Page: A1


Owners weigh options as nation moves toward legalization in July

Cuong Nguyen will lose his job in three weeks.

He might even lose it sooner, if the city police tell Regina Green
Cross Medicine to stop selling marijuana before February 15. For now,
that's the date his bosses plan to close up shop - and everything must

"It's kind of crappy, to be honest," he said. "Now I have to look for
a new job."

Last Tuesday, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray warned cannabis
dispensaries that they're breaking the law. He hinted at possible
enforcement action in the coming weeks.

Dispensaries have responded in radically different ways, with some
already closed, others biding their time, and one - at least - vowing
to stay open and fight any criminal charges at trial, come what may.

Nguyen said that, as far as he knows, Regina Green Cross Medicine will
comply with any police order.

At Broad and College, NHCR has already shut down. The sign is gone,
and the door is locked. A real estate agent was there on Tuesday,
checking to see if anyone was still there. No one answered.

On Albert Street, Heavenly Herbs has stopped selling cannabis
products. A few weeks ago, they made the decision to only stock
accessories - even before Bray issued his warning.

Owner Abby Schlechter said she plans to apply for one of the six
cannabis licences available for Regina. She wants to start things off
right with the Regina Police Service.

"We just wanted to be proactive. We knew this was going to come
about," she said. "We are trying to look at the bigger picture and do
things legally.

Pat Warnecke, the owner of Best Buds Society in the Warehouse
District, is taking a more combative approach. He accuses the police
chief of risking a "public health crisis" if dispensaries are forced
to close before legalization.

"We help thousands of people locally here," he said. "To cut people
out of their medication is inhumane, it's discriminatory and it's not
a very good use of our tax money."

Canada currently has a medical marijuana regime that operates through
the mail, by means of licensed providers spread throughout the
country. But Warnecke said that they don't accept cash and aren't
convenient for low-income people.

"We have a lot of people who are low-income, that come in here on a
daily basis, or even bi-daily basis, to buy one or two grams, because
that's all they've got that day," he said. "That's all they can afford."

He said Best Buds will stay open until the police physically remove
their products from the building.

"We'll be staying open till then, till whenever," Warnecke said.
"We'll be staying open as long as we can." He also took issue with
Bray's comments about "quality control." The chief said he fears that
cannabis provided by dispensaries could be adulterated, possibly with
dangerous drugs like fentanyl.

But Warnecke said that the staff at Best Buds smoke their own product.
They also ensure that all their customers have prescriptions or
medical diagnoses, he said, as well as proper identification.

He admits that other dispensaries might not be so professional. The
Leader-Post visited one that provided cannabis to customers without
any documentation. An employee there openly admitted they were a
"recreational" outfit.

Warnecke said that police should focus their attention on "the more
shady places," and work out some sort of compromise to let him stay
open - even under restrictions - until legalization. Between his shops
in Regina and Saskatoon, he said more than 30 jobs are at stake.

Some, he said, can't work in places that won't let them smoke pot on
the job. "We hire people that are considered disabled, that wouldn't
have jobs otherwise," he said.

Warnecke said he has no desire to face criminal charges. "I've got a
wife and two kids," he said, "I'd like to travel." But he's not
convinced he'd be convicted if his case went to trial.

"There haven't been too many convictions of people who provide
cannabis to sick people," he said.

"At the end of the day, I guess we'll be tried by a jury of our

Schlechter doesn't think that's a wise approach. She said she's
currently helping her clients connect with licensed providers. She
agrees with Warnecke that there are still barriers to access - but she
thinks dispensaries are unlikely to prevail in a battle with the police.

"That's their decision," she said. "I don't think that it's going to
work in their favour. That's not how the government works.

"We would rather work with them than against them."
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