9 charged after Saint John pot dispensary raids choose jury trials
Judge Andrew Palmer schedules preliminary hearings for mid-March
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."
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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.
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.
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