Nova Scotia

Medical marijuana advocate in Nova Scotia calls Saint John police raids 'alarming'

Nova Scotia municipalities should regulate medical marijuana industry to protect patients and vendors, says the provincial spokeswoman for an advocacy group.

What's to prevent 'open season on all of the dispensaries,' says Debbie Stultz-Giffin

Debbie Stultz-Giffin, spokeswoman for Maritimers for Medical Marijuana, says it is time for Atlantic Canadian municipalities to follow British Columbia's example and licence marijuana dispensaries.

Police raids on six marijuana shops in Saint John show how vulnerable such businesses are in Atlantic Canada, says the spokeswoman for Maritimers for Medical Marijuana, who argues municipalities should instead move to license them.

"If the trend continues as in Saint John yesterday, it will be hugely alarming," Debbie Stultz-Giffin of Bridgetown, N.S., said.

She estimated there are 21 or 22 marijuana dispensaries in Nova Scotia. Many patients who use medical marijuana have come to depend on dispensaries, she said.

"Patients can go in and they can see the medicine, they can smell it, they can have someone talk to them about what effect they might expect this medicine to provide. It is truly the most informed way patients can purchase their medicine."

None of the Halifax businesses that dispense marijuana contacted by CBC News wanted to comment on the raids Wednesday.

Prosecutions could increase

Stultz-Giffin said she was alarmed by the change of policy on the part of Saint John police.

In September, Chief John Bates told CBC News that medical marijuana dispensaries weren't a top priority for the police force. A police spokesman said Tuesday's raids weren't part of a provincewide push.

There are up to 22 medical marijuana dispensaries across Nova Scotia. Maritimers for Medical Marijuana urges municipalities to regulate the industry and issue licences. (CBC)

In December, a Halifax cannabis shop was charged with drug offences after it decided to sell recreational marijuana as well as medical marijuana. It was an isolated case. 

"But what's to say that tomorrow morning they're not going to get up and have a change of heart as well and it's open season on all of the dispensaries," said Stultz-Giffin, who uses medical marijuana to ease symptoms from multiple sclerosis.

'It's a municipal thing'

She urged Halifax to begin regulating the industry, in the same way Vancouver, Victoria and a number of other cities in British Columbia have.

"They've thumbed their nose at the federal government and they are going ahead and doing it. It's a municipal thing. The individual cities are looking at it. They're forging ahead and allowing access for patients."

There are about a dozen storefront dispensaries operating in the Halifax area, according to weedmaps.com.

"We have not and would not issue an occupancy permit for a marijuana dispensary (medical or otherwise) as federal regulations currently prohibit the sale of marijuana through a retail store-front," said Halifax municipal spokeswoman Tiffany Chase in an email Wednesday.

"If they are operating, they are operating illegally."

She did not say if any are being investigated or prosecuted under Halifax bylaws.

Meanwhile, MUMM has established "a beginning set of standards for dispensaries that are operational or up and coming throughout Atlantic Canada, to give them a means of guidance to help them set direction and things we think are important for the patient," Stultz-Giffin said.