New Brunswick

HBB Medical plans more illegal marijuana dispensaries in Maritimes

A St. George family that's been selling marijuana in New Brunswick without arrest or interference by authorities is opening a new storefront in Saint John on Saturday and plans to expand into Rothesay, Dartmouth, and St. John's.

HBB Medical has outlets in Fredericton and Moncton and eyes Rothesay, Dartmouth and St. John's

Brock Merchant says HBB Medical Inc. has expansion plans to put marijuana dispensaries in Rothesay, Dartmouth and St. John's. (CBC)

A St. George family that's been selling marijuana in New Brunswick without arrest or interference by authorities is opening a new storefront in Saint John on Saturday and plans to expand into Rothesay, Dartmouth, and St. John's.

"Right now, we've been awesome here in New Brunswick," said Brock Merchant, who runs HBB Medical Incorporated along with his brother Bowe and their father, Hank.

Since opening their first location in Fredericton on April 20, followed by a second location in Moncton on Aug. 3, the Merchants say they've accumulated more than 750 clients who've been prescribed medical marijuana by their doctors and have the documents to prove it.

Their outlets have also attracted the attention of police.

"We have lots of police come and check our place out," said Brock.

"They see that we're here but again we don't have complaints."

He said he understands the police must keep a watch of their business and could "raid" them at any time.

"However, we're just hoping that they don't," he said.

"By keeping a positive image, by keeping people happy, we're hoping to keep that away."

Dispensaries illegal

Denis Arsenault, the chief executive officer of Organigram, the only marijuana producer in Atlantic Canada that is licensed by Health Canada. (CBC)
Gilles Lee, the president of the New Brunswick Chiefs of Police, says dispensaries are illegal and will be investigated case-by-case.

When asked why the Fredericton police had not acted on a dispensary that has operated for several months, Lee said he didn't know the answer.

Lee said he wasn't aware of any investigations but that didn't mean they're not happening.

A CBC request for an interview with Fredericton Police Chief Leanne Fitch was referred back to Lee, who is also the police chief in Edmundston.

"This isn't a grey zone, this is black and white illegal," said Denis Arsenault, the chief executive officer of Organigram, the only licensed producer of medicinal marijuana in New Brunswick.

The Merchants say they don't purchase product from Organigram or any of the 35 licensed producers authorized by Health Canada.

Instead, they say, they purchase cannabis products from people who do have prescriptions for medical marijuana, including those who grow their own.

"I have a medical licence myself," says Brock Merchant. 

"So I'm allowed to transport over 150 grams at any given time so that's five ounces right there."

Legalization coming

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has promised to table a bill to legalize marijuana in spring 2017. (Jim Young/Reuters)
The federal government has promised to table a bill next year to legalize marijuana.

Meanwhile, police departments across the country have cracked down on some dispensaries while appearing to ignore others.

Toronto and Vancouver have seen multiple raids.

However, the City of Vancouver has begun issuing business licences to dispensaries while ordering others to close.

Confusing times

Nicole O'Byrne, an associate law professor at UNB, says these are confusing times with legalization of marijuana promised next year. (CBC)
Nicole
O'Byrne, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, says it's a confusing time.

"The businesses and entrepreneurs setting up these dispensaries are running just ahead of the legislation here," she said.

"So the average citizen is kind of left in a quandary where the dispensary is open but it's really still illegal on the books."

"This leads to a lot of well, chaos, frankly, where people don't really know what's going on."

O'Byrne says the pending legislative changes must also weigh on police departments that have to choose how to deploy limited public resources as well as the Office of the General, which has the ultimate decision on whether charges are laid.

"There will be law reform in this area in the next, probably six to 12 to 18 months on the outside, and so they do wonder if they charge somebody whether it's worth it when it will not be illegal by the time the issue comes to trial," she said.

The Merchants say they're providing an important public service by educating people about the efficacy of marijuana in its various strains and the options for ingesting it.

They say their staff is knowledgeable and friendly and their growing number of employees, which should reach 20 by the end of September, will all be experienced users of marijuana.

Merchant says they're also careful to choose their business locations away from homes and schools.

He says their places are discreet, clean and accessible and he says they deserve a place in a market that he fears, could soon be dominated by big pharmaceuticals, corporate giants and distributors, such as liquor stores.

"We're a family business," said Brock.

"There's room for all of us."

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