New Brunswick

Cannabis cases will continue to be prosecuted, despite legalization

It's still not clear exactly when pot will become legal in Canada, but while legislation works its way through the Senate in Ottawa, criminal cases will work their way through the courts.

Prosecutors told to continue trying cases that won’t be affected by coming changes in law

HBB Medical Inc. CEO Hank Merchant (middle) walks out of the Saint John courts with members of his illegal dispensary staff who were charged in 2017 police raids. Merchant was not charged. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

It's still not clear exactly when pot will become legal in Canada, but while legislation works its way through the Senate in Ottawa, criminal cases will work their way through the courts.

In Saint John Wednesday, seven people were back in court on charges of cannabis possession for the purpose of trafficking. Those in court were associated with HBB Medical Inc., one of four companies running illegal marijuana dispensaries which were twice targeted in police raids last year. 

Stephanie Wilcox, Bowe Merchant, Anthony Bryant, Kyle Owens, William Caines, Jonathan Lambert, and Mark Splude are all facing charges for possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. The charges were laid during two separate raids by the Saint John Police on several illegal dispensaries on Jan. 24 and March 21 in 2017.

Kyle Owens is also facing separate charges for unlawfully trafficking in cannabis on Dec. 14, 2016. He was arrested and charged for the same offence on Jan. 9, 2017 along with Jonathan Lambert. 

HBB Medical's locations were among several locations targeted by police in two separate raids in 2017. (CBC)

A trial date was supposed to be set Wednesday, but defence lawyer Jeremy Doucet told the judge he was trying to resolve the issue with the crown. So, the case was adjourned to June.

While this isn't the first delay in the case, it isn't a case of trying to run out the clock before legalisation kicks in.

New Brunswick's Assistant Deputy Attorney General has reminded his prosecutors — even with legalization — the province will control retail sales and private dispensaries will still be against the law.

"Whatever was unlawful today as far as dispensaries go will continue to be so after the new legislation," Luc Labonté said.

Labonté wouldn't speak on the specifics to a case before the courts, but said a delay in finding a trial date could be the result of a number of factors. That could include an issue over facts, sentences, or evidence.

Crown prosecutors may be expected to proceed as usual with most criminal matters involving cannabis, but he hinted there could be changes coming.

"The thing we're going to have to be mindful with the legislation, is things that are unlawful today that are not unlawful after whichever date the legislation is proclaimed" he said.

Those factors, Labonté said, will have to be looked at closer to determine how they're addressed.


Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.