Traf­fick­ing charges dropped against trio in­volved in city pot dis­pen­sary

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CITY+REGION - AN­DREA HILL

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.

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