Ottawa police raided at least six marijuana dispensaries across the city in a coordinated operation on Friday morning.
by Jacquie Miller, Joanne Laucius, Blair Crawford November 4, 2016
This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen
The raids appeared to be targeted. The locations are all part of a B.C-based chain that began opening dispensaries in town this summer under the names Green Tree, WeeMedical and CannaGreen. Police raided CannaGreen on St. Joseph Boulevard; three Green Tree Medical Dispensary locations, one on Preston Street, one on Montreal Road and one on Bank Street; and two WeeMedical Dispensary locations on Rideau Street and on St. Laurent Boulevard.
Police have been investigating the dispensaries for months. They also sent letters to the landlords of dispensaries, warning that action could be taken if illegal activities continued. One landlord evicted a CannaGreeen shop on Roydon Place earlier this week.
At least five police officers were at the Wee Medical Dispensary Society on Rideau just east of Nelson Street, next to the Somerset West Community Health Centre. Some officers were videotaping the scene, while others were loading cannabis cookies into plastic bags.
At least one employee, a female, was taken into custody in handcuffs.
Several customers inside the store were released by police.
Police moved in on the CannaGreen at 2288 St Joseph Blvd. in Orleans in the morning and were seen leading a man out in handcuffs. Other officers in black jackets and black balaclavas entered the shop carrying cardboard boxes and satchels.
Later, two more officers arrived with battering rams and pry bars and could be heard pounding on something metallic inside. The store’s smoked glass windows prevented anyone seeing inside from the sidewalk.
A steady flow of customers arrived throughout the morning to find the store’s front door locked.
Raphael Riche, 22, was one. He stopped by for “a bit of leaf” for recreational use. Riche came to Orleans after he found the police had already shut down his regular shop on Montreal Road.
“I could say it’s for medical use – to help my insomnia, my back – but why bother,” he said. “It’s going to be legal in a few months … I’ll go see one of my buddies. Maybe he can help me out instead.”
Another customer, who would not give his name, said he uses marijuana to control his multiple sclerosis symptoms. He’d been told to try the drug by his sister, who uses it to control the pain of her Stage 4 breast cancer. Her doctors had prescribed morphine, but she refused and used marijuana instead.
“Morphine is so addictive,” said the 50-year-old man. “What’s the worst that can happen with marijuana? You wake up surrounded by Mars bars wrappers.”
The man said he used CannaGreen’s edible products and found the shop clean and professional.
“What am I going to do now? I’m not going to go to my sister and ask her for some.”
Another customer, Justin 22, uses marijuana to control anxiety, but came to CannaGreen Friday because he’s applied for a job.
Police descended on the Green Tree dispensary at 352 Preston St. in the morning. It was a quiet raid, with some customers turning away from the door only after they noticed the officers inside.
“Is this a bust?” said one man in his 20s, who declined to give his name. “Isn’t this legal?”
Meanwhile, shortly before 11 a.m. more officers moved in carrying tools, and loud banging could be heard from inside.
At about 11:20, officers packed up three cardboard boxes, locked up the dispensary and left.
A woman who answered the phone at the WeeMedical Dispensary Society in Vancouver said the company’s principal, Justin Liu, was in Ottawa Friday but “did not want to be connected to any reporters.”
Liu’s voicemail was full.
Police had warned they were investigating the shops, and on Friday they moved in.
Police have faced pressure from some residents and city councillors to close the shops. But other Ottawans support the dispensaries or believe it’s a waste of money to close them since the federal government has promised to legalize recreational pot. Public complaints were one factor police said they considered when “prioritizing” investigations by the drug unit against the dispensaries.
The shops operated by the B.C-based chain are similar. They are sparsely decorated, featuring cases filled with dried weed, cannabis-laced cookies, candy and pop, and an ATM. Staff generally refuse to comment and say they aren’t allowed to reveal the names of the managers or owners.