More than half the charges laid against London marijuana dispensary staffers and operators swept up in a series of raids on the illegal businesses in the past two years have been withdrawn, court records examined by The Free Press show.
London police have launched seven raids in three separate crackdowns on city pot shops since August 2016, resulting in 49 charges against 15 people - writes lfpress.com.
But court records show 25 of those charges— mostly for possession for the purposes of trafficking— were later withdrawn and resolved through peace bonds, a non-plea order requiring the person to be on good behaviour for a set period of time.
Just three convictions were secured against two men, both of them dispensary operators at the time of their arrest, resulting in fines and weapons bans but no jail time.
It's a case of the criminal law being used to shape government policy.
Toronto lawyer Paul Lewin
The remaining cases involving two dozen charges against seven people are still working their way through the courts, but there’s no indication the results will be different.
The London cases mirror the outcomes in other Ontario cities, where charges from pot shop raids have rarely led to convictions, prompting critics to question the police tactic.
“It’s a misuse of the criminal justice system,” said Toronto lawyer Paul Lewin, who specializes in cannabis cases.
“It’s a case of the criminal law being used to shape government policy.”
The Chronic Hub marijuana dispensary was raided in March 2017 in London. (Free Press file photo)
Dispensaries started popping up in big numbers across Canada following Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election pledge to legalize recreational cannabis use. Some of the unsanctioned shops only sell to members with a valid licence for medicinal marijuana, while others serve anyone over age 19.
In an effort to stomp out the flourishing businesses, police forces launched hundreds of raids in cities across the country, laying charges against staffers and seizing inventory.
“They’re bringing all these employees through the system, clogging bail courts, clogging set-date courts,” Lewin said. “The whole process is ridiculous.”
Signing a peace bond doesn’t lead to a criminal record, Lewin said, but the ordeal takes a toll on his clients whose marijuana charges are withdrawn through that process.
“They have to attend court and there’s the stigma of being in the court system,” he said. “Normally, getting a peace bond on a trafficking offence is unusual. It’s policy that is being handed down.”
The Ministry of the Attorney General referred all questions about marijuana cases to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC).
“The PPSC prosecutes offences under existing legislation,” a spokesperson for the federal agency said in an email. “The cannabis-related offences contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act have not been amended and continue in force.”
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