11 charged in marijuana raids to enter pleas later

Marijuana-impaired drivers a challenge for Saint John police, says chief

Eleven people facing drug trafficking-related charges in connection with a series of police raids at medical marijuana dispensaries in Saint John earlier this year have had their court cases set over until May 30 without entering any pleas.

William Caines, Sarah Deering, Ronald Flynn, Ryan Francis, Lance Kangos, Sarah Kirbyson, Jonathan Lambert, Brian Lloyd, Kyle Owens, Mark Splude, and Kyle Vizino all either owned or worked for the dispensaries, according to Saint John police.

All 11 made brief appearances in Saint John provincial court on Tuesday morning on charges of either drug trafficking or possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

The charges stem from the execution of simultaneous search warrants at six dispensaries on Jan. 24 as part of a joint-police forces operation.

The locations included:

- Medicinal Grounds, 104 Prince William St.

- Medicinal Grounds, 505 Rothesay Ave.

- BCW, 8 Simpson Dr.

- King Canna, 76 Germain St.

- HBB Medical Inc., 1714 Rothesay Rd.

- HBB Medical Inc., 199 Chesley Dr.

A 12th accused did not appear in court Tuesday.

The federal government recently announced it will legalize marijuana July 1, 2018, following the recommendation of a task force.

The government has not said how police or courts should handle the product until then, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reminded the public that marijuana is still illegal.

New Brunswick's four opposition parties have suggested marijuana should be decriminalized now, so people won't be punished for possessing small quantities of a drug that will be legal.

​The Saint John raids stemmed from an investigation by the integrated street crime unit over "a couple of months," Saint John Police Force Sgt. Charles Breen had said.

Police returned the keys to the owners of all six locations the following day.

King Canna was the first to reopen its uptown location a week later. All four companies with cannabis dispensaries resumed operations within a month.

The raids drew criticism from some advocates and prompted a protest outside city hall on Feb. 18.

Police conducted more raids on March 21, when more people were arrested and charged. Businesses were halted yet again.

The following month, the federal Liberals tabled bills to legalize marijuana and clamp down on impaired driving.

The integrated street crime unit consists of officers from the Saint John Police Force, Kennebecasis Regional Police Service and the RCMP.

They were assisted during the raids by members of the RCMP southern district street crime unit and uniform patrol officers of the Saint John Police Force.

Correction : An earlier version of this story indicated HBB Medical Inc. president Hank Merchant was charged as a result of the Jan. 24 police operation. However, he was charged as a result of a separate investigation, according to police.(May 02, 2017 2:27 PM)