The police shutdown of several marijuana dispensaries in Ottawa has sent a clear warning to all cannabis shop owners about the consequences of any illegal activities in their operations.
The Nov. 4 raid by the Ottawa Police Service took place at marijuana dispensaries at 352 Preston St. and 256 Bank St. in Centretown, as well as at addresses on Montreal Road, Rideau Street, St. Laurent Boulevard, St. Joseph Boulevard and Roydon Place.
Overall, nine arrests were made and the charges included possession for the purposes of trafficking and possession of proceeds of crime, according to a police statement.
Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney stated in an email that she is sympathetic towards the employees who were caught up in the raids, as some of them were young people earning minimum wage.
While the two targeted Centretown dispensary locations were shut down, other shops such as Weeds Glass and Gifts and The Cannabis Emporium on Bank Street have remained open for business.
Both shops declined to comment on the concerns surrounding shop closures.
The raids were the result of a police investigation that had been ongoing for several months, and some local residents and city councillors had put pressure on police to shut down the dispensaries.
But many Ottawa residents have supported the operation of dispensary businesses, arguing that the raids are a waste of money and time, especially because the federal government has promised to introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2017.
Pro-marijuana advocates such as Russell Barth have passionately supported the push to legalize and regulate cannabis for many years. He has taken to challenging the stigma surrounding pot in online spaces, creating videos and blog posts about the issue.
“I have a serious anxiety issue and PTSD, so when I feel like drinking, I won’t feel like having a drink. I feel like drinking myself blind. Pot helps to keep those urges down,” Barth said.
Barth has also taken the matter to City Hall, where he argued that the shutting down of a single dispensary would cost the Ottawa Police Service thousands of dollars in taxpayers money — funds that he believes should be spent on other criminal investigations.
According to a 2013 article in the Winnipeg Free Press, the cost of marijuana-related arrests at the time came to about $7,000 for courts and police.
The cost increased as drug busts got bigger.
Nationwide, marijuana prohibition and police enforcement costs the Canadian government an estimated $500 million annually, the report said.
But Health Canada media relations advisor Rebecca Gilman said the authorization of the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations has given Canadians with access to cannabis the ability to grow limited amounts of pot for medical purposes only.
“So now people can still grow or they can get it (weed) from authorized distributors,” Gilman said.
“But the dispensaries are always and have been illegal.”
Craig Jones, executive director of NORML, a non-profit organization that aims to put an end to civil and criminal penalties for cannabis use, sees dispensaries as operating in a grey zone, pushing the limits of the law ahead of the Canadian government’s planned legalization of marijuana.
“What’s happening is a cat and mouse game, where the cat is the government using its enforcement powers and the mouse are the dispensaries,” Jones said. “There are hundreds of mice across the country, and when these dispensaries are open then shut down, another one opens then it’s shut down again.”
Pro-marijuana advocates have said they hope the media will change the rhetoric surrounding marijuana so the public has a better understanding of its use.
“We’re not standing for this. Regulate our dispensaries,” Barth said. “Regulate them properly because we need them, we want them, and we are not letting them go.”