Doug Schmidt • Windsor Star
The owner of a downtown Essex pot-selling business raided by police on Friday vowed on Saturday to reopen within days.
“At certain times, people break the law when they feel the system is not right — we are people fighting to make it right,” the owner of Hemp Health Farmacy told the Star. Having faced criminal charges in the past — and possibly soon again — he asked that his name not be made public.
As drug busts go, the raid along the town’s main commercial strip on Friday by a large number of officers with the OPP’s organized crime enforcement bureau and its community street crime unit was a rather polite affair.
“They were friendly and pretty courteous — they seemed to not want to be there,” said Scott Fletcher, one of the employees at Hemp Health Farmacy who was helping customers when “about eight officers or more” entered the small retail business.
Advising employees they were acting on a tip from the public that pot was being sold on the premises, the officers executed a Controlled Drugs and Substances Act search warrant at about 10:30 a.m., shortly after the marijuana dispensary had opened its doors for the day. According to an Ontario Provincial Police news release, “a quantity of cannabis marijuana was seized and charges are anticipated.”
Police are warning budding entrepreneurs that it’s still not legal to sell or even consume recreational marijuana in Canada.
“We tried to get a jump on it — a little early, I guess,” said Fletcher. In less than a month of operating out of retail space next to a bank and a fabric store, he said word of mouth had drawn over 1,000 customers to the business set up to sell pot to anyone aged 19 and over.
The owner said Hemp Health, which boasted five full-time and about five part-time employees, had a municipal business license to operate, but he concedes it was for a café, something he suggested could have become an eventual addition. Meanwhile, anyone who could prove they were 19 and over could purchase marijuana, regardless of whether it was for medicinal or recreational purposes.
But under Bill C-45, the new federal legislation that recently received royal assent, the Ontario government alone holds a monopoly in the province on how and where pot will be sold starting Oct. 17, when it no longer becomes a crime in Canada for an adult to possess marijuana for personal consumption.
West of London, only Windsor has so far been approved to host just one of 40 retail pot outlets that Ontario plans to operate in the first year of legalization.
“It’s pretty foolish to think they’ll get away with one shop in Windsor — that’s just ridiculous,” said Fletcher. He said the small business in Essex had lineups out the door.
The owner said most of Hemp Healthy’s customers were in their 40s or older and that “any kid can get weed on the street cheaper than we sell it for.” He said most of the pot being sold on-site — not all of it designed to get the user high but also to treat pain and other ailments — sold for between $10 and $12 a gram.
Fletcher described as “elderly” many of the clients he helped serve. “It’s important they get it from us and not the dirty dealer in the alley,” he said.
Windsor pot activist Jon Liedtke, who co-owns Higher Limits cannabis lounge catering to medicinal marijuana users, said Ontario is “woefully unprepared” for pot’s legalization in October and that we are likely to see many more operations like Essex Hemp Healthy Farmacy sprout up.
“As we approach legalization, we’re going to see more people wanting to be involved in this industry,” he said. While the province thinks it might be able to get by with 40 LCBO-type pot retail outlets when the market opens, Liedtke said Toronto alone, in its “heyday” a few years ago, had 155 illegal dispensaries.
And as in Toronto, Liedtke foresees police forces conducting “whack-a-mole” raids in which one illegal dispensary is shut down only to see another open in its place. Greed and consumer demand is just too strong, he said. He estimates Toronto currently still has about 40 illegal street-level pot dispensaries, with Hamilton having an even higher per-capita rate.
Until the new Bill C-45 legislation comes into effect on Oct. 17, the OPP said in its news release following the Essex bust that it will “continue to enforce the current legislation as written under the CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) and related federal statutes.”
It described as “ongoing” the Hemp Healthy Farmacy police investigation.