Saskatchewan Video

'Game on' says Regina pot seller after reopening store the day after police raid

Charges 'likely' for some, says police chief of 6-store bust

Posted: March 29, 2018
Last Updated: March 29, 2018

Patrick Warnecke, the owner of Best Buds Society in Regina, says he'll continue operating his pot dispensary despite the store having been raided and his having been charged by police Wednesday. (CBC)

One of the six Regina businesses raided Wednesday night for allegedly selling pot reopened Thursday afternoon.

"Game on," said Best Buds Society owner Patrick Warnecke as he carried a large plastic moving box of product into his Cornwall Street store.

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"[I'm] restocking after a hard night of police raids," he said.

Warnecke's open rebuff to the police, posted on the business' Facebook page, came less than 24 hours after his store was raided by the Regina Police Service.

And if the police bust him again?

"We open up again. We open up, we open up, we open up," said Warnecke.

'The law has not changed'

Elizabeth Popowich, a spokesperson for the police service, said Warnecke reopened at his own risk.

"The law has not changed," she said in an emailed statement.

"The jeopardy of the operator of an illegal storefront selling cannabis is no different today than it was yesterday.  As he was subject to enforcement yesterday, so he is subject to enforcement still, if he engages in continuation of the alleged offences."

Warnecke said he was charged by the police Wednesday night but that he felt he had no choice but to reopen.

"We can't desert sick people and marginalized people and turn our backs on them," he said.

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray says charges are 'likely' for some of the people associated with the raiding of six stores in the city that police believe were selling marijuana to customers. (CBC)

Wernecke's customer base includes people who suffer from cancer, epilepsy or other serious illnesses that depend on his product.

"If at the end of the day I have to take a criminal charge to help people out, I'll feel better about it," he said

Best Buds Society was one of six businesses raided Wednesday night. The other stores were located at: 2139 Albert Street, 1857 Park Street, 1920 C Francis Street,  828 Dewdney Avenue and 6300 Dewdney Avenue, according to the police.

The busts followed a warning issued two months ago by Police Chief Evan Bray cautioning dispensaries to stop selling pot in the lead-up to the anticipated legalization by the federal government.

Police took an unspecified number of people into custody. Bray said at a Thursday morning news conference that police would consult federal Crown prosecutors and that charges are "likely" for some.

'You've had two months'

"We had conversations last night as this was going on with people saying, 'Well, we were in the process of getting rid of the illegal drug selling out of our business,' " said Bray.

"Well, you've had two months. It doesn't take that long to do that."

Business owners and landlords who knew the pot sales were happening were the focus of the raids and arrests, Bray said, rather than employees. Warrants were obtained for the raids, he said.

"A lot of the activity that was happening in these locations, even after legalization, won't be legal and won't be allowed to happen: selling to youth, selling edibles," said Bray.

Pot, cash, ledgers seized

In addition to a "very large amount" of pot and cash, uniformed and plainclothes officers seized receipts, ledgers, cash tills and packaging, said Bray.

"It was done in a very swift but in a very safe manner," he said, adding that no one used force during the busts.

"Right now it appears all patient files are safe," according to a post on Best Buds' Facebook page.

Warnecke said he got a call at 6 p.m. CST Wednesday from his employees saying that the police were in the building and would be pressing charges against them and Warnecke for trafficking a controlled substance.

"I think it's pretty distasteful [in] the fact that we're helping thousands of patients that are essentially marginalized by the current system," he said.

Warnecke acknowledged he had received a warning from the police to stop his operations, but he said his customers include several people that suffer from cancer, epilepsy, or other serious illnesses that depend on his product.

Some may turn to the street to meet their needs, or look to harder drugs to help them cope with pain, he said.

"We have a lot of patients that have addiction problems and we're helping them curb that problem."  

Customer 'terrified' about losing medical marijuana

Devan Hansen said she has been a customer of Best Buds for a year, and depends on them for help coping with multiple illnesses, including an auto-immune disorder and anxiety.

She had come to the dispensary on Wednesday night, looking to pick up medical marijuana but was alarmed to find out that she couldn't access the service.

"I'm terrified," she said.

Devan Hansen, a regular customer at Best Buds Society, said she was terrified of getting through the night without medical marijuana and was concerned she might have to turn to the black market to deal with her symptoms. Regina Police Services raided the marijuana dispensary on Wednesday night and charged the owner and employees. (CBC News)

Hansen's fear was that she would have to turn to the black market to deal with her physical symptoms and pain, but said she worried about what might be in these street drugs.

"Losing a place like this is devastating."

Chief Evan Bray had warned marijuana store owners that are not complying with the law that they may face charges. (CBC News)

With files from Glenn Reid, Stephanie Taylor and Guy Quenneville