The Cannabis Culture pot shop opened on Bank Street just two weeks before March 9 police raid. Parisa Vafaie, Centretown News

Cannabis crackdown hits new pot shop

By Liam Fox

Cannabis Culture, Ottawa’s newest pot dispensary and the first in the city associated with high-profile marijuana activists Marc and Jodie Emery, was raided by police soon after opening recently in Centretown.

The March 9 raid at the Bank Street shop took place as six other Cannabis Culture locations were being shut down by police nationwide. The Emerys, who own some Cannabis Culture shops and franchise the others — including the Ottawa outlet — were arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport the same day and face charges for alleged drug trafficking, conspiracy and possession of marijuana.

Then, days later, it emerged that Cannabis Culture had reopened for business, highlighting the ongoing legal fog in which pot dispensaries have been operating in Ottawa and across Canada at a time when the federal government is moving towards legalizing the drug for recreational users.

Police in Ottawa and elsewhere, however, have continued to intermittently target marijuana dispensaries for selling products that remain illegal until the passage of any legalizing legislation. During the past year, though, shops shut down by police have frequently reopened within days to continue doing business.

Marc and Jodie Emery posted on social media that they were on their way to a cannabis festival in Europe at the time of their arrest. They were later granted bail.

“The latest salvo in Canada’s senseless war on cannabis and cannabis consumers is a moral outrage and has no place in a free and democratic society,” said their lawyer, Kirk Tousaw.

Cannabis Culture’s new Ottawa location opened at the end of February.

“We are not going to deny people equal access. Our model reflects our belief that anyone 19 and older should be free to choose,” said Jodie Emery.

Another five dispensaries had been set to open over the next few weeks across Canada, Emery had said before the March 9  raids.

Ottawa resident Sherry Morrison turned to cannabis to help with her chronic back and hip pain from working as a truck driver. However, cannabis has not always been what helps her cope.

She had been addicted to a variant of prescribed Percocet before turning to marijuana, and commended the Emerys for helping provide people with an outlet.

“I would still be on it if it were not for cannabis,” said Morrison, who joined Jodie Emery on Parliament Hill to protest for the immediate legalization of marijuana.

Morrison has been using marijuana medicinally for about seven years. Her daughter, Cassandra, was arrested in January during a raid on another illegal Ottawa dispensary, Weed Glass & Gifts, where she was working.

“Why are we wasting our tax dollars raiding these cannabis shops that are being transparent and run properly when this (fentanyl) overdose crisis should be taking precedence?” Morrison asked.

Emery said prior to her arrest that the timing of the Ottawa location’s opening is important because it provides access to marijuana as an alternative to dangerous opioids like fentanyl.

“The opioid/fentanyl crisis is reaching tremendous proportions… U.S. government research shows that there are fewer opioid deaths where there is accessible marijuana, so we wanted to help provide that,” she said.

The first Cannabis Culture dispensary opened in Vancouver last April. Since then, roughly 20 shops have opened across British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.

The bulk of the dispensaries are franchises, including the Ottawa shop. The independent owners use the Emerys’ Cannabis Culture brand.

Despite having a government-issued licence allowing her access to medicinally grown marijuana, Morrison said she prefers going to dispensaries like Cannabis Culture and Weed Glass & Gifts.

“Most times the legal producers will not have what you need,” she said. “Even then, I have received the incorrect product in the past, even moldy products.”

Both Emerys have been at the forefront of marijuana activism and distribution for the better part of two decades. Marc Emery spent five years in the U.S. prison system for selling cannabis seeds south of the border.

“The only change in this country has come through civil disobedience — breaking the law to change the law,” said Jodie Emery. “Opening these stores will act as an example to the government of how this can be done the right way.”

She said at the time that Cannabis Culture will continue to open more locations countrywide and continue to fund activism.

The Emerys appeared in court in Toronto for their bail hearing on March 10.