Vancouver’s First Medical Marijuana Dispensary Raid

CANNABIS CULTURE – In the first of its kind in the city since medical marijuana dispensaries began opening about 15 years ago, Vancouver police conducted a raid on the storefront location of a med-pot supplier on Tuesday, seizing cannabis and computers and arresting the 60-year-old manager.

Several undercover and uniformed VPD officers stormed the Renfrew Street location of the iMedikate dispensary on February 21 and informed the manager that she was “under arrest for trafficking.”

Police displayed a search warrant and took photos of the interior and exterior of the building, and of the manager herself. She was read her rights and detained for more than an hour before being released from police custody. Police confiscated her keys and personal laptop and stayed in the store after she left. When staff returned to the location later in the day, iMedikate’s large safe had been cracked open (and destroyed in the process) and the marijuana and cannabis edibles had been removed. The door to an office upstairs had been kicked open.

“Members of our drug squad executed a search warrant around 11am,” Constable Lindsey Houghton told Cannabis Culture. “The investigation was initiated as a result of several complaints from the community regarding alleged criminal behaviour related to the address. … One of the main reasons why the department embarked upon this investigation of iMedikate was a number of complaints were received about the sale and trafficking of a controlled substance.”

Houghton said the VPD’s intention was not to “close down” the dispensary, but to “collect information for a criminal investigation.” He also said police have not yet recommended charges against the manager or anyone else, though they may in the future depending on the results of the investigation.

iMedikate’s Founder and President Mark Klokeid told CC that when arrested, the manager asked police why the dispensary was being raided.

“This is just the first one on the list,” she was told by VPD drug squad officers at the scene.

iMedikate’s Renfrew location was opened in October 2011 and is the group’s second location. iMedikate’s first location, on Fraser Street, was opened in January 2011. It was Vancouver’s sixth medical marijuana dispensary and the grand opening received considerable media attention. Between the two locations, iMedikate serves about 1500 members.

Though there are plenty of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Vancouver and across Canada, they are actually illegal according to the law. Health Canada’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) allow patients to grow their own or purchase directly from the government, but that’s it. Unfortunately, it is impossible for many patients to grow their own and many say the government’s pre-grown pot is brown, dry, and schwagy.

Over the past 15 years, medical marijuana dispensaries have filled the vacuum left by Health Canada to provide a safe place for sick people to acquire quality medicine. Many dispensaries have strict self-regulations and patients must have MMAR paperwork or a recommendation or diagnosis from a doctor before being allowed to make a purchase.

In April of 2011, an Ontario judge tossed out Canada’s medical marijuana laws, and found that doctors’ “overwhelming refusal to participate in the medicinal marijuana program completely undermines the effectiveness of the program” and that “the requirement for a medical doctor’s declaration has rendered the MMAR unconstitutional.”

Health Canada is now in the process of consulting with the marijuana community to reorganize the program, and has proposed eliminating personal production licences and setting up a system of large-scale commercial growers. Established medical marijuana dispensaries were not mentioned in the government’s new plans.

Canadian dispensaries had operated without a problem from law enforcement officials until recently when local police raided dispensaries in Quebec and the RCMP made several raids on dispensaries in British Columbia outside of the city of Vancouver. Tuesday’s raid is the first orchestrated by Vancouver’s municipal police force.

“We’re certainly aware of the other dispensaries in the city of Vancouver,” Constable Houghton told CC. “We’re aware of the potential for the trafficking of a controlled substance – whether it’s marijuana or other substances – and if there is evidence to support an investigation we would certainly investigate it.”

When pressed by CC further about the fact that dispensaries have operated in the city for 15 years, right under the nose of the VPD, with little opposition from any level of law enforcement, Houghton acknowledged a “grey area” when it comes to medical marijuana dispensaries and enforcement of the law, and suggested there may be something more than just trafficking involved in this case.

“We are well aware of the grey area,” Houghton said, “but what we have to remember here is we are investigating information that we feel is supporting criminal allegations that go beyond that grey area, and so that’s what we are doing in this case.”

“If they’re just talking about selling medical marijuana, then I am guilty as charged,” Klokeid said. “I am selling marijuana, but only to people with a doctor’s diagnosis or recommendation. All patients must have an MMAR licence or a doctors note and must show ID. Everything is by the book. There are absolutely no backdoor dealings.”

Klokeid, himself a medical marijuana patient who suffered from cancer and had a bone marrow transplant, says he doesn’t think the government’s current program is lawful because it has failed patients.

“I got cancer and I was not able to access any of the systems or acquire legal marijuana in a timely manner even though I was beginning chemotherapy,” he said. “So I vowed, if I lived, that I would give access to other people for this drug that helped save my life. My goal in life is not to become rich, it’s to make marijuana legal.”

iMedikate, like some other dispensaries, offers doctor services on-premises.

“If someone wants to use our services,” Klokeid said, “they must have a doctor’s note or set up an appointment to see one of our on-call doctors. We provide consultation and office space on premises for a psychologist and a registered naturopath, who both also have private practices and have been triple-checked for legitimacy.”

iMedikate’s Vice President Armin Sodhi acknowledged that there may be some people in the cannabis legalization movement who don’t like iMedikate, and said rumours have circulated that iMedikate may not have the strict self-imposed standards of some other dispensaries.

“It’s all just rumours,” Sodhi told Cannabis Culture. “We’ve heard a lot of rumours since we opened up – it gets to be almost a joke. But we say ‘no, it’s not even the case, at all.’ I dare anyone to try to get into iMedikate without proper documentation. It’s impossible.”

When it comes to skirmishes with authorities, this ain’t Klokeid’s first rodeo. Klokeid, also known as The Weed Guy, hosts a popular YouTube channel, owns the company, helped develop Vancouver’s 4/20 protest and celebration, and joined the occupation of Conservative MP offices with Free Marc activists.

This month, Klokeid signed a contract with Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) to host a natural health and medical marijuana expo on July 27, 28, and 29 at the PNE Forum. The event is expected to include 50-100 marijuana-related booths, 200 natural health booths, and will feature the “Kush Cup” medical marijuana competition.

PNE officials told Klokeid they contacted the VPD about the expo as part of contract proceedings, and that police said they knew who he was but didn’t oppose the expo.

The last few months have been a bumpy ride for iMedikate.

In December of 2011, iMedikate’s Fraser Street location was robbed at gunpoint. Two masked men with firearms entered the building and attempted to tie-up staff members in the back room. During the commotion, a staffer managed to wrestle the gun out of one of the thieve’s hands and turn the tables on him. The criminals fled and were never found.

Klokeid said he doesn’t understand why police didn’t discuss complaints or allegation against him directly instead of raiding his storefront location and seizing his property.

“I’ve been in constant contact with them concerning suspects and evidence in the robbery. Just last week they said they had a hit on the DNA test.”

The police raid comes despite a recent show of support for legalizing marijuana from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, as well as four former city mayors and four former B.C. attorney’s general.

The Mayor’s Office did not return calls from CC requesting a comment.

iMedikate’s Renfrew location is temporarily closed while staff cleans up the mess left by police, but the Fraser location is open for business. Klokeid said iMedikate will continue to offer a safe location for patients to acquire their medication and said he plans to open a third location in coming months.