ON: Two Weeds Dispensaries Have Closed, But There Are Plenty Of Other Shops In Ottawa


Two of Ottawa’s most popular pot shops have closed after Canada Post intercepted shipments of marijuana mailed to them from B.C.

Don Briere, the president of the B.C.-based Weeds Glass & Gifts chain, says he hopes his dispensaries on Bank Street and Montreal Road will reopen if he can figure out a way to ship the dried weed, cannabis-laced brownies, candy, concentrates and other merchandise across the country. Weeds buys the products from growers and “bakers” in B.C.

Briere said his company has been mailing marijuana products by express mail ever since he opened stores in Toronto a year-and-a-half ago. There has never been a problem with Canada Post before, he said.

“All of a sudden, they flagged us and they started seizing the packages.”

Federal politicians have warned that the marijuana dispensaries popping up across the country are operating illegally.

“I think the Liberal government, even though they were voted in to legalize cannabis, are encouraging law enforcement, saying, ‘The law is the law, ‘ ” said Briere in an interview from B.C.

Briere is now searching for a trucking firm willing to transport cannabis. He won’t hire criminals for the job, he said.

“We’re trying to get this out of the criminal element and into a legitimate business. We are doing it upfront and telling everybody.”

Briere, sometimes called Canada’s king of pot, has been a vocal marijuana advocate for 25 years. He is setting up his chain of medical marijuana dispensaries in anticipation of the government’s promise to introduce legislation next spring to legalize recreational marijuana.

As far as Briere is concerned, Canada’s laws against pot have already been struck down in the court of public opinion. He’s trying to operate like any other business, but it’s difficult, he said. He had half a dozen stores in Toronto, but after police raids or the threat of them, all the Weeds shops there have closed except one. That location still ships products from B.C. using Canada Post, but not to the store address, said Briere. Weeds also has a dozen dispensaries in B.C., mainly in Vancouver.

His company pays GST and corporate taxes, said Briere, and also lost money seized during the Toronto police raids, a situation he calls “triple taxation.”

“We’re not stopping, this is our right,” said Briere, citing Canadian court rulings that patients must have reasonable access to medical marijuana. The dispensaries are providing an important service, he said.

Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, but patients must obtain it from a producer licensed by Health Canada, such as the Tweed facility in Smiths Falls. Licensed producers can use Canada Post to send their products to customers.

People with a doctor’s prescription for marijuana can also grow small quantities of marijuana for themselves, or buy from growers licensed by Health Canada to produce pot for up to two patients.

Briere says his shops obtain their weed from medical patients or their designated growers in B.C., who just produce extra. The federal government has warned that products sold at dispensaries are not regulated by Health Canada and may be unsafe.

There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of cannabis products at other dispensaries in Ottawa. Many of their operators are not forthcoming about exactly where they obtain their merchandise or how it is transported to Ottawa.

For example, another B.C. chain has opened seven shops in Ottawa since June. The stores are called Green Tree, Wee Medical and CannaGreen, although staff say they are all related.

Staff at their dispensaries on Preston Street, Bank Street, Rideau Street and Montreal Road refused to provide the Citizen with information about who owns and manages the shops, although several said the merchandise was from B.C.

Requests sent by email to the addresses listed on the Green Tree and Wee Medical websites were not immediately returned.

The locally owned Magna Terra Health Services, which operates dispensaries on Carling Avenue and on Iber Road in Stittsville, has not had a problem maintaining supplies, said spokesman Franco Vigile.

In previous interviews, Vigile said he operates responsibly and is confident that his B.C. suppliers are top-notch, but declined to give details about them because the transactions are in a “grey area” legally.

The two Weeds stores in Ottawa had more than 1,000 customers, according to the store manager.

Weeds is negotiating with Canada Post to try to prevent the destruction of the estimated $200,000 worth of merchandise that was intercepted in August, said Briere.

That included seven large boxes mailed to Ottawa and six boxes mailed to a store in Quebec City, which was closed in late August after police raided it and charged several people with drug trafficking.

Canada Post said the shipments violated its regulations on “non-mailable matter,” said Dean Davison, the Vancouver lawyer acting for Weeds. The Canada Post Corporation Act allows the post office to open mail to determine if it violates those regulations, which include a general clause against mailing anything that is ” in contravention of an Act or a regulation of Canada.”

Davison said he’s working on legal appeals to try to get the merchandise back. Weeds faces no criminal charges for sending the merchandise through the mail, as far as he’s aware, said Davison.

Others open for business

The two Weeds stores in Ottawa may be temporarily closed, but there are plenty of others to choose from. New dispensaries are popping up quickly, and there are now at least 15 in the city.

All say they cater to medical marijuana users. There is a wide variation in how they operate and who is allowed to buy marijuana. The two Magna Terra Health Services dispensaries, for example, look like upscale medical clinics and employ a nurse. The bare-bones Green Tree stores feature a display case of cannabis products and an ATM machine.

Two of the newest shops are on Gladstone Avenue between Bronson and Bank, across the street from each other.

Sylk Medy Dispensary operates in one room, containing a couple of couches and a desk, in the front of a brick house. The merchandise, contained in a small case, consists of cannabis oils, creams and capsules. Customers must fill out a two-page form about their medical conditions and be already approved by Health Canada to use medical marijuana.

“I’m sick and tired of everybody opening a store and just selling weed,” said owner Scott Sumers. “It’s just a cash grab.” His shop does not sell dried weed, candies or cookies.

Two Sylk Medy staffers interviewed last week said medical marijuana has worked wonders for them. Todd, who declined to give his last name, said he had to give up his job as a mechanic after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He was in dreadful pain and prescription pain medication left him feeling like a zombie.

He now takes a drop of cannabis oil that is high in CBD, a chemical component of marijuana that has medicinal effects but does not make you high. Todd says he is now able to function.

Danny said he uses marijuana to help control diabetes and anxiety. He said he hopes to conduct cooking classes and wellness workshops at the Sylk Medy dispensary. He’s scathing about the cannabis-laced candy, cookies and pop sold at other dispensaries. “It’s junk food.”

Across the street, the Releaf Centre opened about a week ago in the back of a house. The entrance is down a narrow alleyway, a setup that some customers may prefer because it’s more discreet, said a staffer who identified himself as Dvon.

He was temporarily conducting business from the dingy, dark basement of the house last week after a water pipe burst upstairs. The owner of Releaf is a friend of his from Toronto, said Dvon. The owner could not immediately be contacted for comment.

Releaf plans to sell dried weed to customers legally allowed to use medical marijuana, said Dvon. He began using marijuana himself in Grade 8. After a few years, he realized it was also helping his anxiety and ADHD.

Dvon said he is signed up to legally purchase medical pot, but Health Canada-licensed producers are only allowed to sell it online and ship products by mail. Dvon said he prefers to see the merchandise to make sure it’s high quality.

At the Wee Medical Dispensary Society shop on Rideau Street Friday night, a middle-aged man emerged after buying a package of gummy candy. He said he is HIV positive and marijuana is the only thing that helps him keep his appetite. He, too, can purchase marijuana legally, but licensed producers are not allowed to sell edible products. Smoking hurts his lungs, he said.

He used to buy his candy from the Weeds shops, the man said. “I figured I knew (about) this Don Briere guy, and he’s not a Hells Angel, as far as I know.”

A trio of University of Ottawa students wandered into Wee Medical lugging two cases of Sleeman beer. They filled out application forms but were told to come back the next day to purchase products because the store had run out of membership cards.

“This is f—ing dope,” quipped one of them in an interview outside the store. Jerome, a business student, said they are casual pot users. “It’s a fun thing to do with your friends.”

They were impressed with the store, which had jars of dried weed, cookies and pop for sale. “It’s a more or less safe place,” said Jerome. “I’d rather buy it here than in a parking lot from a guy I don’t know.”

He was surprised to find the store was illegal. “Why the hell is it allowed by the police?” Ottawa police say they are investigating the dispensaries. The first one opened in Ottawa in November 2015.

The students declined to give their last names because of the stigma attached to pot use. They don’t want future employers googling their names and discovering they were customers at an illegal pot shop.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: The Two Weeds Dispensaries Have Closed, But There Are Plenty Of Other Shops To Buy Marijuana In Ottawa
Author: Staff
Contact: Ottawa Citizen
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Website: Ottawa Citizen