CANNABIS CULTURE – The operators of Burnaby’s first and only medical marijuana dispensary – raided and shuttered by the RCMP in July 2011 – have been handed conditional discharges by the Provincial Court of British Columbia and will receive no jail time or criminal records.
Britney Johnston, Ryan Steplock, and third partner opened the Metrotown Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary in April of 2011 after announcing their plans to the local press and even meeting with Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan.
Despite the perceived nod from local authorities, they were quickly shut down after an RCMP sting operation and raid. Police seized moderate amounts of marijuana and hash, as well as cash and over 150 members’ files.
“I was inspired to open the dispensary because I knew there was a need in the Burnaby area for local patients,” Johnston told Cannabis Culture. “It’s much more convienent for sick and elderly patients to obtain their medicine from a trusted location in the area, rather than having to travel into Vancouver or another city to get it.”
The co-accused were both given a list of minor conditions including 50 hours of community service work and instructions “not to attend any premises where the primary commodity for sale or distribution is marijuana.” The co-accused are also, of course, “not to be found in possession of any controlled substances.”
Judge H K D Dhillon made clear that current laws in Canada, as they stand, must be respected. She told the defendants and their lawyer Kirk Tousaw that there “must be some recognizable response from the state” about their flouting the law, even if they thought they were helping or doing a good thing. Despite a little tough language, the judge seemed to be mostly sympathetic with the defendants and recognized their explanation for breaking what they felt was an unjust law.
“I feel an absolute discharge would have been a fairer decision because Ryan and I have been under conditions for the last two and a half years and haven’t had any issues,” Johnston told CC, “but I’m happy with the end result because it could have been much worse.”
The third partner in Metrotown med-pot crime, Jordan K, was given a similar conditional sentence when her case came before the court earlier this year.
The Burnaby dispensary was one of several closed in British Columbia by the RCMP in recent years. Over 30 medical marijuana dispensaries are open for daily business in the city of Vancouver with virtually no interference from the VPD, and many other dispensaries do business at storefront locations in other cities across the province, though they are all actually illegal according to federal law.
“Dispensaries are … illegal and they get raided fairly often and it just depends on where you are,” Dana Larsen, founder of The Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary in Vancouver, recently told the press. “In Vancouver the [Vancouver Police Department] and city council have made a policy decision to leave legitimate dispensaries alone, but other parts of the province, other parts of the country it varies wildly. It really comes down to a local decision.”
Health Canada has recently changed the rules governing medical marijuana in Canada. The controversial new system includes a commercial component that legalizes the growing and mail-order distribution of cannabis by private companies, but will take away card-holders right to grow their own medicine at home.
Completely absent from government documents describing the new system is any mention of the fate of the storefront medical marijuana dispensaries that have existed in cities across Canada for more than 15 years.