Pubdate: Tue, 03 Apr 2018
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The London Free Press
Author: Dale Carruthers


More than half the charges laid against London marijuana dispensary
staffers and operators swept up in a series of raids on the illegal
businesses in the past two years have been withdrawn, court records
examined by The Free Press show.

London police have launched seven raids in three separate crackdowns
on city pot shops since August 2016, resulting in 49 charges against
15 people.

But court records show 25 of those charges - mostly for possession for
the purposes of trafficking - were later withdrawn and resolved
through peace bonds, a non-plea order requiring the person to be on
good behaviour for a set period of time.

Just three convictions were secured against two men, both of them
dispensary operators at the time of their arrest, resulting in fines
and weapons bans but no jail time.

It's a case of the criminal law being used to shape government
policy.Toronto lawyer Paul Lewin

The remaining cases involving two dozen charges against seven people
are still working their way through the courts, but there's no
indication the results will be different.

The London cases mirror the outcomes in other Ontario cities, where
charges from pot shop raids have rarely led to convictions, prompting
critics to question the police tactic.

"It's a misuse of the criminal justice system," said Toronto lawyer
Paul Lewin, who specializes in cannabis cases.

"It's a case of the criminal law being used to shape government

Dispensaries started popping up in big numbers across Canada following
Justin Trudeau's 2015 election pledge to legalize recreational
cannabis use. Some of the unsanctioned shops only sell to members with
a valid licence for medicinal marijuana, while others serve anyone
over age 19.

In an effort to stomp out the flourishing businesses, police forces
launched hundreds of raids in cities across the country, laying
charges against staffers and seizing inventory.

"They're bringing all these employees through the system, clogging
bail courts, clogging set-date courts," Lewin said. "The whole process
is ridiculous."

Signing a peace bond doesn't lead to a criminal record, Lewin said,
but the ordeal takes a toll on his clients whose marijuana charges are
withdrawn through that process.

"They have to attend court and there's the stigma of being in the
court system," he said. "Normally, getting a peace bond on a
trafficking offence is unusual. It's policy that is being handed down."

The Ministry of the Attorney General referred all questions about
marijuana cases to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC).

"The PPSC prosecutes offences under existing legislation," a
spokesperson for the federal agency said in an email. "The
cannabis-related offences contained in the Controlled Drugs and
Substances Act have not been amended and continue in
force."RelatedCity pot shop shuts doors, shifts sales to
deliveryLondon Relief Centre ups security after cops charge staffer
againLondon police raid Richmond Row marijuana dispensaryMarijuana
dispensary owner's refusal to quit shows pot law enforcement isn't
working, says expertPot shops: Tasty Budd's owner among those charged
by London police in last week's raidsPot shop raids: Eight people
charged with possession for trafficking in wake of London
raidsChippewas chief vows to keep out illegal marijuana shopIndigenous
pot shops pose policing challengeFirst Nation marijuana shop empty,
shuttered after police presence

Police often raid dispensaries only to see them reopen, sometimes the
next day, leaving law enforcement officials in a bind. In London, four
dispensaries openly operate in defiance of the law despite repeated
police action.

London police will continue to enforce the existing drug laws,
spokesperson Const. Sandasha Bough said when asked why police are
laying charges that rarely lead to convictions.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at the University of
Toronto, said police use raids to deter new dispensaries from setting
up shop, predicting more raids will happen in the coming months.

"Things are going to vary by jurisdiction," said Owusu-Bempah, who
questioned why police forces, many of them dealing with overstretched
resources, are targeting dispensaries when marijuana is expected to be
legalized by the summer.

A 2015 Vancouver police report sheds some light on the high costs of
policing dispensaries. A single investigation that led to four charges
ate up 560 hours, costing more than $34,000 in pay and benefits, the
report said.

"Given the significant resource commitment and other factors
considered . . . marijuana dispensaries are not a high priority for
drug enforcement in the absence of overt public safety concerns,
considering the much higher risk to public safety posed by violent and
predatory drug traffickers, and by highly toxic drugs such as
fentanyl," former deputy police chief Doug Lepard wrote in the 15-page

The federal Liberal government's bill to legalize recreational
cannabis passed a key stage in the Senate almost two weeks ago and is
heading to committees for further study.

In Ontario, recreational pot will be sold only at 40 LCBO-operated
retail outlets - the number of stores will double next year before
expanding to 150 by 2019 - or through an affiliated online service
once the law is passed.

The province is creating a special provincial operation, the Cannabis
Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, to crack down on illegal
dispensaries and choke off the black market supply of marijuana.
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