'Not like some secret channel to Pablo Escobar': Sask. medical pot seller headed to trial after 2016 RCMP raid
Jerry Martin says he ran his Whitewood dispensary out of compassion for patients
A former Saskatchewan dispensary owner busted by the RCMP for selling medical marijuana over the counter is now headed for a trial.
Jerry Martin plans to argue that his now-shuttered business provided easy marijuana access for patients shut out by the federal medical pot system.
"It's going to trial for the people," said Martin on Wednesday.
Martin, 47, was charged with trafficking and money laundering after the RCMP raided his Whitewood, Sask., business in November 2016 — two years before legal recreational cannabis stores opened across the country.
Martin has opted for a judge-only trial in Saskatchewan's Court of Queen's Bench, and he's hired a Toronto-based cannabis lawyer, Paul Lewin, to argue his case.
"You can't convict someone for selling medical cannabis when the medical regime is broken," said Lewin.
Martin and Lewin say long waits to register and receive medical pot in the mail, plus minimum order amounts, continue to disadvantage the homeless people and low-income earners Martin served at his store, which even gave out pot for free every Wednesday for those short on cash.
"Those people should not be denied medical access because they're not rich, or at least have a home and a credit card and a job," said Martin.
"[They're] being tossed aside."
Not a unique argument
Martin is not the first dispensary owner to make this argument, according to Trina Fraser, an Ottawa-based cannabis lawyer.
Fraser says many people have seized upon a B.C. federal court judge's 2016 comment that "dispensaries are at the heart of cannabis access."
But Fraser says Martin's case could fall short of his goal to see stores legally selling medical cannabis.
"The win may just be he gets acquitted of these charges," she said.
"There [may also] be a legislative response, [but] it's not going to be, 'OK, Mr. Martin, just go run … your unlicensed dispensary, selling unlicensed cannabis to whoever you want.'
"That's not going to be how they fix the problem."
'King of Compassion'
Martin ran his dispensary for four years until RCMP officers raided the business in 2016.
Martin, who still owns some tattoo-related businesses and a retreat resort in Peru, says authorities seized about $650,000 worth of his property and savings after the bust, including two BMWs and his home in Whitewood.
He says federal Crown prosecutors offered to give him back his property if he pleaded guilty and did a short stint in prison. He refused the deal, he said.
Robin Neufeld, the federal lawyer assigned to Martin's case, declined to comment on that or any other aspect of the case, saying those details are not yet a matter of public record.
Martin says his own past as a homeless person fuelled his self-described "King of Compassion" approach.
"I've got a heart for people that are in a less desirable situation," he said.
By his account, and others', Martin was a generous businessperson who shared his proceeds with the community.
Much of the "about" page on his old dispensary website was devoted to listing dozens of donations he made to groups in Whitewood.
But while Martin didn't do anything "disruptive" in the community, not all of his largesse was wanted, says Doug Armstrong.
He approached the lifeguard at the swimming pool and handed over some cash. We didn't want to accept it. But it was already given to the pool committee and that's where it ended.- Whitewood Mayor Doug Armstrong
"One particular instance … he approached the lifeguard at the swimming pool and handed over some cash," said Armstrong, the mayor of Whitewood for the last six years.
"We didn't want to accept it. But it was already given to the pool committee and that's where it ended."
Martin believes the population of Whitewood — a community about 165 kilometres east of Regina and mostly agricultural, according to the mayor — dropped precipitously within months because of his bust and ensuing move to Vancouver.
"I laugh at that. I think it's fiction," said Armstrong, adding that "there was an awful lot of traffic from out of town."
The mayor's view of Martin's business operation is clear.
"Well, it was illegal at that time to do what he was doing," said Armstrong.
No criminal activity, says defence lawyer
Regarding the money laundering charge, Lewin said Martin wasn't doing anything other than "running his dispensary, receiving money for it, donating a lot of it, spending some of it on himself."
"There's nothing else going on here," Lewin continued. "It's not like there was some secret channel to Pablo Escobar, not like he was involved in organized crime."
Martin and Lewin say that unlike today's recreational pot stores, Martin's dispensary offered an experience tailored to medical users.
"Some elderly sick person shouldn't be going to the same place where a 22-year-old picks up their two-four of beer for their party weekend," said Lewin.
No date has been set for the trial yet.
Fraser, the Ottawa-based cannabis lawyer, said that depending on its outcome, the trial could prod the federal government into doing something she and others have advocated for for years.
"Sale of medical cannabis through pharmacies," she said. "To me that's the most logical easy option."
Mayor Armstrong just wants the whole thing to be over.
"One way or the other," he said, "we'd like to see it ended."