An Ottawa judge has discharged drug-trafficking charges against a young clerk who worked at a marijuana dispensary but said she didn’t realize the business was illegal.
The woman was only 21, had no criminal record, has accepted responsibility and expressed remorse, and is at low risk of re-offending, said Justice Norman Boxall in his sentencing decision.
Selena Holder-Zirbser is one of about 44 people who have been charged in police raids on illegal shops in Ottawa. She says she took the $12-an-hour job because she needed to pay her rent.
In his decision, Boxall said it wasn’t up to the judiciary to decide who is prosecuted.
“If the authorities chose to prosecute only certain individuals to combat dispensaries, that is within their discretion. But it is inappropriate for the court to fight any battle against dispensaries on the backs of individuals with low moral culpability, significant remorse and strong rehabilitative potential.”
Earlier in the case, Boxall wondered aloud why prosecutors have not gone after landlords of dispensaries. He also said he couldn’t understand why police don’t close the illegal shops that operate openly on major streets.
Most of the people who have been charged in raids were clerks, although several managers and owners have also been arrested.
The police say they are frustrated because they don’t have the resources to investigate all the shops. They are often “fly by night” operations and it can be difficult to identify the owners. Police can’t force dispensaries to close their doors, either, simply confiscate the marijuana and arrest people inside who are selling it. Many of the shops reopen after raids, and new ones pop up.
Dispensaries have opened across the province, emboldened by the federal government’s plan to legalize recreational pot this summer.
The courts must apply the country’s drug laws as they stand now, noted Boxall in his sentencing.
However, it would “fly in the face of justice and the public interest” to saddle Holder-Zirbser with conditions that would make it difficult for her to be a productive member of society, Boxall said in giving her an absolute discharge.