5 Marijuana dispensaries raided by London Police

By JP Nikota, Flora Pan, Richard Quarisa

Eight people were charged with drug trafficking today following yesterday’s marijuana dispensary raid, where a total of $169,659 in controlled substances and about $3,220 in currency were seized across five dispensaries in London, Ont.

JP Nikota debriefs on the London Police news conference on the March 2 marijuana dispensary raid.

Police say the investigations began several weeks ago in response to complaints from community members. They are still looking for people to come forward with information related to the raids to help their investigation efforts.

The following dispensaries were searched:

  • 96 Wharncliffe Road South
  • 119 Dundas Street
  • 490 Wonderland Road South
  • 737 Hamilton Road
  • 1472 Dundas Street

Police say the primary concern is for the public’s safety, as these dispensaries are not licensed and government-sanctioned.

“Their existence, these particular dispensaries, it undermines the work done by legal Health Canada sanctioned clinics that provide safe prescriptions to these clients,” says Constable Sandasha Bough.

Medical marijuana users respond to police raids – positively

Some medical marijuana users say that the existence of unlicensed dispensaries only makes things more difficult. They say that the drug’s public perception is at stake.

Alisa Pacan, 33, has recently started using medical marijuana as prescribed by a physician at the Canadian Cannabis Clinic on Wharncliffe Road in London. The clinic supplies clients with marijuana from only approved sources, which Pacan uses to treat chronic pain and anxiety. For her, the idea that marijuana dispensaries could be operating without proper oversight is concerning because it only adds to a difficult stigma.

“I feel that a government that would allow these to even be in business is creating the problem [of stigma] in the first place. And that their very existence does, in fact, make it harder for the people who are trying to do it on a legitimate basis.”

Religious stigma and marijuana use

Agreeing to even try medical marijuana was already something that Pacan struggled with because of shame she experienced because of her family’s attitudes.

“I felt judged by my own family, by friends, by people who knew I was going to the clinic. ‘Oh, you just want drugs,’ they said. Because it’s not like that at all, I had never in my entire life taken it before.”

Pacan’s spouse Minka West recalls how difficult it was for Pacan’s family to accept the news.

“It was quite unexpectedly extreme,” he says, “When we first brought up that she needed help funding her new medication, they were all for that, … [but when] we said ‘medical marijuana’, that’s when things took a direct one-eighty. It went from ‘oh yeah, we’ll totally help you’, to ‘that’s an abomination, what are you doing with your life?’”

The side effects of some of the other drugs more regularly prescribed for pain relief had had much worse side effects, says Pacan.

“When I take oxycodone, or Percocet, or morphine, I was incapable of even watching TV functionally. However, when I took the edible marijuana cookie I was able to play board games with my friends – and win! So obviously, it didn’t affect me on a cognitive level.”

On the subject of recreational use, Pacan is adamant: she is opposed. In her view, marijuana can be used effectively as a tool to help people, but only in the right circumstances.

“It’s very important to have it highly regulated, because even though it is a natural substance, it is a very powerful substance, and I don’t even feel comfortable taking it on a prescription basis, fully. I want to be told exactly how much to take to deal with my problem in a safe way, and I feel that if someone could just take whatever they wanted, that they would not be using it appropriately.”

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Flora Pan

Are dispensaries even legal? And what separates them from clinics?

Delene Galloway is the Manager of Clinic Operations at the Canadian Cannabis Clinics. Her health clinic operates legally, with licensed doctors prescribing marijuana from licensed producers. Dispensaries, she claims, do not.

“Dispensaries are not regulated,” Galloway says. “The marijuana could be laced with cocaine, fentanyl…we don’t know.”

Marijuana from her clinic typically contains 7-12 per cent THC and roughly 50 per cent CBD. THC is the chemical that gets the user high; CBD is responsible for many of the medicinal benefits, including pain relief, anxiety relief, and reductions in seizures and convulsions. This combination of THC and CBD, she claims, is usually the most effective. But with dispensaries, she says, marijuana typically contains a much higher concentration of THC. “It’s a business move,” Ms. Galloway says. She claims the dispensaries know there is a big market for recreational users looking to get high.

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Cannabis samples from inside Canadian Cannabis Clinics

Richard Quarisa

Galloway says that, at dispensaries, clients simply buy marijuana. At the Canadian Cannabis Clinics, however, clients must provide a referral from their family physician and supporting documentation detailing their condition. A doctor at the clinic then examines the patient and prescribes marijuana where needed.

In the final stage of the process, Ms. Galloway meets with the client and registers them with a licensed producer. Prices vary according to supplier, although most bottles of liquid cannabis range from 85 to 200 CAD.

All clients at the Canadian Cannabis Clinic must complete a urine test at the start of each visit. These ensure they are taking the correct doses of their medication and not taking other illegal substances. If other substances show up, they will cancel that client’s prescription.

She says that medical marijuana is currently seen by Health Canada as a “last ditch effort.” As a result, unlike dispensaries, which just sell marijuana, she says that her clinic is very careful to prescribe specific doses that limit the patient’s access to the drug, in most cases a gram a day.

As for marijuana dispensaries, Ms. Galloway says that she can’t be sure where they obtain their marijuana. “I don’t know,” she said, “no one knows.”