New Brunswick

9 charged after Saint John pot dispensary raids choose jury trials

After a string of raids against Saint John medical marijuana dispensaries, nine men and women have elected to be tried by judge and jury on charges of drug trafficking and possession.

Judge Andrew Palmer schedules preliminary hearings for mid-March

HBB Medical CEO Hank Merchant stood next to his employees after their afternoon appearance and defended his dispensary operation. Merchant is not among the nine people charged. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)
After a string of raids earlier this year against Saint John pot dispensaries, nine men and women have elected to be tried by judge and jury on charges of drug trafficking and possession.

HBB Medical CEO Hank Merchant, who is not among the nine people charged, stood next to his employees after their court appearance Monday afternoon and defended his operation. 

"That's what we're all about," the dispensary-chain owner said. "We actually help people. It's about medicine. We have several thousand people dependent on us every day of the week."

The nine accused, Lance Kangos, 44, Sarah Kirbyson, 27, Kyle Vizino, 29, Ronald Flynn, 40, Brian LLoyd, 39, Kyle Owens, 26, William Caines, 27, Jonathan Lambert, 31, and Mark Splude, 41, have all either worked at or ran one of the dispensaries around the city.

Two lawyers represented them all: Samantha MacPherson and Carley Parish. Parish was acting as an agent for some of the accused, since Kangos, Kirbyson, Vizino are represented by Vancouver-based lawyer Kirk Tousaw.
Vancouver lawyer Kirk Tousaw, pictured speaking to CBC in 2010, is representing three individuals charged in the Saint John dispensary raids. (CBC)

While the court appearance was brief, the case is contentious for many who debate whether the Liberal government's promise to legalize the drug by July 2018 should affect enforcement.

In September, Chief John Bates of the Saint John Police Department said the force had "bigger fish to fry" and didn't see the dispensaries as a priority.

But when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came out and said that until the law is changed people need to obey it, the decision to raid the stores was firmed up, Bates indicated in a later interview.

Only a week after the initial raid, the stores began reopening – only to be raided again.

Merchant said he hopes he can reopen his uptown Saint John location and wants to invited people in to show them what the business is all about.

"We'll just move on," he said.
All nine people charged with trafficking and possession of drugs after police raids of Saint John dispensaries have chosen to be tried by judge and jury. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Merchant said until his employees' next court appearances, he will just have to wait and watch if changes come regarding legalization.

"It's moving along as it should," he said. "The lawyers, it's in their hands."

Judge Andrew Palmer set preliminary hearings for mid-March in 2018.

None of the accused are being held in custody.

With files from Connell Smith