Trial underway for owner of Whitehorse butcher shop that sold THC-tainted jerky
John Pauch faces one count under territorial law for unlicensed sale or distribution of cannabis
The trial for the owner of a now-shuttered Whitehorse butcher shop that sold THC-tainted jerky in 2020 is underway.
John Pauch, who owned Off The Hook Meatworks, faces one count of allegedly selling or distributing cannabis without a licence under the territorial Cannabis Control and Regulations Act.
According to an agreed statement of facts filed at the start of the trial Monday, four people went to the emergency room at the Whitehorse General Hospital between Dec. 25 and 29, 2020, "displaying symptoms of severe intoxication by cannabis despite not having knowingly consumed any."
Urine tests revealed they had THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis — in their systems. They had all recently consumed Off The Hook jerky, a commonality a doctor flagged to the RCMP, and which triggered Yukon health officials to issue a recall.
Police and health officials ultimately identified 33 people in the Yukon, Alberta and Nova Scotia who experienced mild to severe "symptoms of cannabis intoxication" after eating Off The Hook jerky, including seven children and two infants.
Police also seized about 300 bags of the shop's jerky from seven Yukon stores during the investigation. Testing by Health Canada detected cannabis in samples from bags stocked at six of the seven, including Save On Foods, Wykes' Independent Grocer and Bigway Foods.
Meanwhile, tests on 20 bags turned into the RCMP by the public found 14 of them contained cannabis. The agreed statement of facts says two samples tested "strongly" for cannabis and four samples each came back as "very strong" and "relatively weak", but doesn't provide details for the remaining bags.
Environmental health officers separately seized 671 bags of jerky at the shop but didn't immediately take them from the premises, instead boxing them up with plans to pick up the boxes later. However, the boxes were gone when officers returned a few days later, and police found security cameras in the shop weren't hooked up to a hard drive.
Two Crown witnesses called to testify Monday and Tuesday both told the court that a batch of cannabis jerky was made at Off The Hook's shop in late 2020. However, they gave conflicting details on how that batch came to be and how much the owner knew about, as one lawyer put it, the "spicy" batch.
Situation was 'an accident,' son testifies
Joel Pauch, owner John Pauch's son, testified he periodically worked for his father and had been at Off The Hook full-time for about a year leading up to the recall.
Joel said he took cannabis edibles to help with knee pain and had made cannabis jerky at home twice. That, he claimed, led to him, his father and an uncle exploring the possibility of creating a cannabis jerky business, and they had started working with an agency to help secure a licence.
As part of that process, Joel testified, it was a "collective idea" to make a 25-pound test-batch of THC jerky at Off The Hook to see if the recipe he used at home could be scaled up.
Joel said he didn't pay for the test batch and didn't know what happened to it, but didn't think it could have been mixed with regular jerky because it would have been put in a separate tub or bag and taken off-premises as soon as possible.
He told the court he assumed after hearing about the RCMP investigation that the situation was the result of "a cross-contamination thing," theorizing that some THC oil was left behind on smoking racks that were then used to make regular jerky.
Joel said there was "nothing malicious" behind THC-tainted jerky making it out to the public.
"We were just trying to create a legal business out of this," he said, describing the situation as "an accident."
The fallout from the contaminated jerky, Joel testified, killed the idea of creating a legal cannabis jerky business. He also said his relationship with his father had "completely deteriorated" because his father believed he was responsible for the situation.
'I don't know how the store jerky got contaminated'
Jerky-maker Terry Badcock presented a different version of events.
In testimony Tuesday, Badcock said Joel paid him $250 to make a batch of THC jerky at the shop, providing him with cannabis oil to add to Off The Hook's regular recipe.
Badcock testified he never spoke to John about the batch, nor did Joel mention having spoken to his father. He also said he hadn't heard discussions about regularly making cannabis jerky, nor had he made any before.
"That was the first and only time I ever did that," he said.
Badcock, who would make jerky after the shop closed for the day, told the court he was alone when making the batch and that the process didn't differ from making regular jerky other than adding cannabis oil.
He said he cleaned the meat slicer immediately after using it and washed out a tumbler that held the meat with "hot, hot, hot" water and soap as usual.
Badcock also testified he didn't slice the jerky into small pieces after it was smoked, instead placing it into a large plastic bag and placing it into the shop cooler. He said he didn't make any other batches of jerky that night and the bag was gone when he returned to make regular jerky the following week.
"I don't know how the store jerky got contaminated," Badcock said.
The Crown didn't call any additional witnesses.
The defence was expected to call John Pauch as its sole witness on Wednesday.
Pauch is also facing two separate lawsuits from people who allege they ate Off The Hook jerky and became "severely incapacitated."