Trafficking charges dropped against trio involved in city pot dispensary
Marijuana trafficking charges against three people involved in a downtown Saskatoon medical marijuana dispensary that was raided by city police two years ago have been dropped.
Instead, the dispensary — the Saskatchewan Compassion Club — pleaded guilty to marijuana trafficking in Saskatoon provincial court on Thursday and agreed to pay a $6,500 fine plus a $1,950 surcharge.
“Obviously, I’m relieved and pleased to have the process come to an end and to have justice ultimately served in the proper manner,” said Compassion Club owner Mark Hauk.
Hauk has argued the charges against him are unconstitutional and had been readying to launch a five-week constitutional challenge in the new year.
However, in provincial court on Thursday, Compassion Club lawyer Kirk Tousaw said a plea agreement he reached with the federal Crown to have the company plead guilty and the charges dropped against Hauk and two others associated with the club “made sense for everyone” and saves a great deal of court time.
According to an agreed statement of facts submitted to the court, the Saskatchewan Compassion Club was in operation on Second Avenue for a little more than two months. It was founded Aug. 11, 2015 and raided on Oct. 29, 2015 after a staff member sold marijuana to an undercover police officer.
Hauk and his two co-accused — store employee Lane Britnell and volunteer Jaime Hagel — had medical marijuana authorizations and were allowed to possess no more than 150 grams of marijuana per month. The Compassion Club had no licence to produce or distribute marijuana and the business had been warned by the police and Health Canada that it was operating outside of federal medical marijuana laws.
On Oct. 21, an undercover officer entered the shop and attempted to purchase medical marijuana. The officer was told he needed a medical marijuana authorization and was referred to a doctor. The officer returned to the store on Oct. 27 after receiving the authorization and purchased marijuana products. Two days later, the officer returned to the store and bought more marijuana.
On that day, the officer told Hauk “I didn’t know you could get a licence to sell weed out of a place like this,” according to the statement of facts.
Hauk replied, “Well you can’t get a licence to do this ... we are working outside of the regulations now ... it’s high risk for us to be doing this.”
Police executed a search warrant at the store later that day and arrested Hauk, Britnell and Hagel on trafficking-related charges.
In its brief time operating in Saskatoon, the Compassion Club purchased about 10 kilograms of marijuana at a cost of $42,242. At the time of the raid, the store contained two kilograms of dried marijuana and $6,285. Another $1,410 in profits was being kept outside the store.
In the aftermath of the raid, some of the club’s clients protested the charges, which were laid during a complicated time. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party had just been elected and legislation to legalize the sale of marijuana was imminent.
Since the Compassion Club shuttered, other medical marijuana shops have started operating in Saskatoon — which is “fantastic,” Hauk said.
“A lot of people ask me assuming that I’d be upset and it’s quite the opposite,” he told reporters outside court. “This was all about creating and improving access and of course, more storefronts opening up is doing just that, so it’s fantastic to see.”
City police released a statement Thursday to say the service was pleased Hauk’s case had reached a conclusion and that it hopes the club’s guilty plea dissuades others from operating marijuana dispensaries without federal licences.
“The SPS (Saskatoon Police Service) maintains that dispensaries which are not approved by Health Canada are violating the law and are a risk to public safety,” the statement read.
After the raid, the Compassion Club relocated its brick-and-mortar storefront to Victoria, B.C. and continued to serve its customers through mail order. That could change now that charges against the people involved in the club have been dropped.
“I’ve had some interesting discussions the last couple days. Maybe stay tuned for a storefront opening in Saskatoon sometime in the near future here again,” Hauk said.