B.C. lawyer who challenged pot laws defends 3 Saint Johners after dispensary raids
Kirk Tousaw calls raids on 6 medical marijuana dispensaries 'complete overkill'
Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver lawyer whose legal victories have helped dismantle marijuana restrictions in Canada, compares the raids on six Saint John pot dispensaries to "taking a hammer to a pebble in your shoe."
Tousaw is representing Lance Kangos, 44, Sarah Kirbyson, 26, and Kyle Vizino, 28, of Saint John, who were among those arrested after the Jan. 24 dispensary raids.
All three are associated with the King Canna dispensary, which Kirbyson manages and where Kangos is a budtender, an employee who serves customers at an establishment where marijuana is sold.
They are all charged with possession of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking, and Vizino faces an additional charge of trafficking.
Tousaw was part of the legal team that persuaded a Federal Court judge to strike down Canada's medical cannabis system as unduly restrictive in the Neil Allard case, a precendent-setting decision that led Canada to implement new medical marijuana regulations in August 2016.
In 2015, in the Supreme Court of Canada, Tousaw successfully argued that Owen Smith, an employee of a Victoria dispensary, be acquitted on charges of possession of cannabis and possession for purposes of trafficking.
Tousaw received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 for his advocacy work defending people charged with breaking cannabis laws.
Tousaw said he became involved with the Saint John cases through Toronto lawyer Jack Lloyd, known for representing Marc Emery, the so-called Prince of Pot.
Lloyd, Tousaw said, is also helping to "stick handle" the Saint John file.
From 'pebble in my shoe' to 12 arrests
"In the big scheme of things, that's a pebble in my shoe compared to the other things we're trying to tackle as a policing organization in this city," Bates said.
After the raids, Bates said it was his belief the shops were operating illegally, "and we decided to do something about it."
Tousaw characterizes the decision to raid the shops as "completely incorrect."
He said police should be going after people who cause harm, not the owners of dispensaries.
"Let's think about what happens during a police raid. Most of the people who are working in dispensaries are young people with no association whatsoever with criminal activity other than that they work in a dispensary. They get raided, it's incredibly scary and stressful, [and] you've got a stain that may impact your future for the rest of your life."
"It is just complete overkill."
Feds to legalize next year
New Brunswick's four opposition parties have suggested marijuana should be decriminalized now.
"We're going to legalize cannabis not just for medical purposes, but for recreational purposes," Tousaw said. "Why are we using the police to deal with that?"
"Saddling these 11 people ... with criminal records hurts us all," Tousaw said. "It reduces their life opportunities and their ability to contribute to our society, and it is just absolutely terrible, especially as we move to general legalization."
"Nobody is going to say this, but legalization is an acknowledgement that prohibition was wrong and harmful. It's about time that we faced up to that, took our lumps, and gave something back to the people who have been prosecuted by these bad laws."
Kangos, Kirbyson, Vizino and eight other dispensary owners and employees charged in the raids are scheduled to appear in Saint John provincial court for election and plea on May 30.