New Brunswick

Saint John dispensary owner puts drug convictions in 'the past'

The owner of a new medical marijuana dispensary in Saint John admits to being convicted of possession of cocaine and marijuana for the purposes of trafficking, but says that is in his past.

Police in Saint John say marijuana dispensary without Health Canada licence operating illegally

Ryan Francis was convicted on charges of possession of cocaine and marijuana for the purposes of trafficking in 2011. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The owner of a new medical marijuana dispensary in Saint John admits to being convicted of possession of cocaine and marijuana for the purposes of trafficking, but says that is in his past.

Medicinal Grounds Cannabis Centre owner Ryan Francis pleaded guilty in 2011 to the charges, as well as to a charge of being in possession of the proceeds of crime. The charges were the result of Francis being caught with a kilogram of cocaine and $40,000.

"The past is the past and I would like to leave it there," said Francis.

"I can't change the past," said Francis. "All I can do is move forward with my life.

Owner Ryan Francis said he expects a visit from the police at some point, but said he is doing everything by the book to ensure his centre stays open. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)
"I'm trying to get rid of the stigma surrounding medical marijuana and help people."

Francis opened his medical marijuana dispensary on Prince William Street last week despite not being licensed by Health Canada.

Sgt. Lori Magee said in a statement Wednesday "Any venue/vendor operating a medicinal marijuana dispensary that has not been issued a licence is doing so illegally."

"We are presently in consultation with other law enforcement stakeholders — specific to this particular establishment — as we contemplate any next steps."

'Changed dramatically'

Francis said his life has "changed dramatically" since serving his sentence on the 2011 drug charges.

"I got out [of jail] in 2012 and worked ever since, right up until May 2016 out in Fort McMurray."

The back room currently offers about 10 different strains of weed and hash, with names like Comatose, as well as two edible products. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)
Francis said his medical marijuana business utilizes his insider knowledge of the plant while also staying on the right side of the law.

"Everything is on the books here. We pay taxes on everything, and everything is written down and accounted for," said Francis.

"I want to make it clear that I am not involved in that lifestyle anymore whatsoever."

Legalization coming in 2017

With the Trudeau government set to legalize cannabis in spring 2017, the migration of one-time black market distributors, growers and manufacturers into the nascent, legal marijuana industry is something Canadians may have to get used to.

"I've heard of growers that have been previously arrested and imprisoned that are now working for the government and big LPs [licensed marijuana producers]," said Francis.

"People who have been doing it their whole lives would be far more experienced than, say, a doctor, or someone fresh out of school."

"Not involved" in illegal trade

Francis said his expertise with the plant better equips him to advise medical marijuana patients.

"I learned how to raise it up, clone it, breed it, trim it, different THC levels, and everything in between," said Francis.

He adds that, whether the public accepts it or not, "Nothing is involved in the illegal trade whatsoever here at all. We are 100 per cent official."

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