Article by Joe Lofaro, CBC News
Just before the lunch hour Monday, Weeds Glass and Gifts in Centretown was buzzing with customers young and old, lining up at the checkout as the smell of dried cannabis filled the air.
Just over a year ago a very different scene unfolded here, when armed police officers raided the illegal pot shop at 224 Bank St. as part of a wider crackdown on the budding cannabis black market. Police confiscated drugs and money, and arrested two workers.
The Jan. 31, 2017, raid had no lasting effect on the business. In fact, Weeds has since opened a second location on Montreal Road.
David Galindo, the 27-year-old manager of the shop, knows he’s taking a risk just by coming to work every day. The thought of getting arrested is always in the back of his mind, but he’s willing to take a chance.
“We’re also here to stand up for what we believe, stand up for people who just want to be able to buy their cannabis and just be on their way,” Galindo told CBC News.
Costly police raids
The shop was caught in one of 23 Ottawa police raids since September, 2016. Forty-three employees were arrested and charged with serious drug offences.
There were eight raids in 2016 and another 15 last year, according to police. Several of the dispensaries re-opened, sometimes just days later. One senior police officer compared the routine to “a game of whack-a-mole.”
Hundreds of charges dropped
At the same time, judges in Canada have been handing down increasingly lenient sentences, and Crown prosecutors have withdrawn hundreds of charges laid against the so-called “budtenders” who staff these shops.
Earlier this year, an Ottawa judge handed down an absolute discharge to an employee who had pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking. A absolute discharge means the offender has no criminal record after one year.