Samantha Zroback

Nanaimo pot shop undaunted following police raids

NANAIMO – Marijuana dispensaries re-open after RCMP seizes drugs and makes arrests.

A steady stream of customers returned to Trees Dispensary Nanaimo on Friday, just three days after police raided the Bowen Road pot shop.

The dispensary is back in business, although not without challenges.

The store is short-staffed with the arrest of three employees, the phone wasn’t working and credit cards were being run up manually without a point-of-sale machine. Even the display cases were looking a little empty.

Where there used to be about five to six pounds (two and a half kilograms) of bud, there’s now only one or two, says store manager Anita Roy – and that’s only thanks to restocking efforts by the Trees chain, whose executives are determined to keep the Nanaimo store open.

There’s also the threat of arrest for employees and patrons, but the store has still been busy, according to Roy, who says people are stocking up.

“A lady picked up 15 caramel packs,” she said.

Police raided Trees Dispensary, Phoenix Pain Management Society and Nature’s Source Society Dec. 1, close to three weeks after warning 11 medical marijuana dispensaries to stop selling marijuana or face potential enforcement.

Dispensaries said everything was seized, including product and cash, and 16 people were arrested and charged. All vowed to re-open and there are plans to continue to press local government for regulation.

Trees Dispensary has also been rolling out changes. Roy says Trees now conducts random testing of its products for dosage content and chemical residue. The dispensary also has customers Skype with a naturopath professional in store to get a letter of assessment.

The dispensary used to ask patients to self-declare a medical condition because they wouldn’t get doctor’s referrals.

Technically people could falsely claim to have a medical condition, but Roy said the trust is the same as in a doctor’s office.

“There is no way a doctor can verify if you have pain,” she said, adding people don’t go to “such elaborate lies” to get a bit of pot. “They can buy pot without telling those lies. They can go on the street.”

But Trees also recognized self-declaration wasn’t enough, she said, and as of Oct. 1, the store has clients Skype with the naturopathic firm Naturosafe Consulting.

“We wanted to take a step further to basically document in a medical fashion their ailments and get a recommendation from a professional,” she said.

Patients going to Trees on Friday were looking for product to help with back pain, depression and anxiety. Those who agreed to talk to the News Bulletin said they didn’t have a prescription.

Mark Merrick said he hasn’t tried to get a doctor’s prescription and doesn’t believe he’d qualify for a medical licence to get marijuana, but the people at Trees know what they are talking about and help. He’s battled anxiety for a long time and marijuana helps him relax. Jacques Rivard needs medical marijuana for his back and he doesn’t like going out on the streets to find it.

“Having this, I don’t see the harm in it at all,” he said, adding the police raid was nonsense.

“Why not spend more of their time going after the real crimes out there?”

Another patient, who asked not to be named, self-declared depression at Trees Dispensary Nanaimo knowing the condition still technically exists even if he’s not currently battling it and uses marijuana more for creative inspiration, personal reflection and meditation. He should have the right to choose for himself whether marijuana is necessary for him, he said.

Trees Dispensary plans to remain open even if it faces future arrests.

It’s a scary possibility for Roy, who says she’s never been in handcuffs before. But she calls it a moral and ethical issue and plans to take a stand. Legalization could take “years and years”  and there are patients who have saved their lives with medical marijuana, according to Roy.

“Cancer patients who have saved their lives in three months, in six months, we should let them die until this becomes legal? I don’t think so.”

She said if there are arrests, more employes will come to take their place in a non-violent, “Gandhian” strategy.

“We will line up like lemmings,” said Roy. “I know we are not Che Guevara, we’re not the Russian Revolution and we’re not the French peasants. It’s not that glamorous, but still some of the principles apply. We want to change and the only way to do it is to push the envelope.”

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