New Brunswick

Saint John medical marijuana storefront operating illegally

According to Health Canada, the only legally operating provider of medical marijuana is OrganiGram in Moncton, leaving the new Saint John store open to the possibility of being shut down by police.

Stores are jumping the gun on the expected legalization of marijuana products and opening illegally

Medicinal Grounds Cannabis Centre, a medical marijuana dispensary, opened in Saint John on Aug. 16 but it is not a licensed provider, according to Health Canada. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The medical marijuana store that recently opened in Saint John might say it's going by the books to stay open but the location is still operating illegally in Canada, according to one lawyer.

Medicinal Grounds Cannabis Centre owned and operated by Ryan Francis only allows in those over 19 years of age with a certified prescription from a doctor or a card from Health Canada.

But the only licensed provider of medicinal marijuana in New Brunswick is currently OrganiGram, located in Moncton, according to Health Canada's website.

Kathryn Wells, a criminal defence lawyer at Wells Frost Litigation Group in Toronto, told Information Morning Saint John the rules are clear when it comes to selling medicinal marijuana.

"There's no grey area, either you have the exemption and the ability to obtain it for medicinal purposes or you're breaking the law," Wells said.

She says despite the federal Liberal campaign promise to legalize marijuana, it is still an illegal substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Kathryn Wells is a criminal lawyer in Toronto. She regularly has to tell her clients that when a judge orders no use of illegal substances, that includes marijuana. (Courtesy Wells Criminal Law)
"There seems to be this sort of belief or misapprehension now that marijuana is about to become legal so therefore there's no harm in opening these one-off dispensaries but it's really an enforcement issue … whether the police choose to shut them down is their prerogative," said Wells.

Wells said the public became upset when locations in Ontario, which were selling medicinal marijuana illegally, were raided and shut down.

She said they needed to be aware that owning and operating any dispensaries is a lot of effort and cost just to face criminal charges.

"It's not simply calling up the government to say I want to open up a marijuana dispensary, there's an application form, there are security clearances that have to be conducted," said Wells.

"There's a lot to it, the whole purpose being to regulate who is providing people with medicine."

Health risks

Ryan Francis, who is a medical marijuana user himself, says his retail location in Saint John will be more convenient than ordering online. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)
It's a health risk to operate without a licence because there's no guarantee the dispensary is selling something that could help the person with the exact prescription they have.

"We want to make sure people are receiving an actual medicinal grade of marijuana and not something that's potentially harmful to them," she said.

Ryan Francis, the owner of Medicinal Grounds, told CBC he was expecting a visit from police at some point in the future.

In April the federal government proposed to introduce legislation that would decriminalize marijuana by spring 2017.

With files from Information Morning Saint John