Only a week ago Mark Hauk was the owner and operator of Saskatoon's only medicinal marijuana dispensary, but a police raid has left him facing trafficking and possession charges.
Last Thursday, the Saskatchewan Compassion Club, an unlicensed dispensary located only blocks from City Hall and the Saskatoon Police (SPS) Headquarters, was suddenly filled with police officers—some wearing Kevlar vests.
"They rolled in single file, ten deep through the front door, plain-clothed officers," Hauk told VICE.
"Shamefully, they lined up their squad cars in the back so no one could see what was happening. I told them that too, as they took me out the back door, I told them to have some balls and pull their police cars out front to let everyone see what was happening."
Even with new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise to move toward legalization, Saskatoon police appear to be holding onto old Conservative policies and an ideological stance against medicinal marijuana. With legalized weed's uncertain future, Hauk is seriously concerned he could end up behind bars before any changes set in.
The club started around six months ago after Hauk had a bad experience trying to navigate getting his medicinal marijuana through Health Canada. The storefront dispensary began operating in August, but before opening its doors, Hauk tried to take the proper route to encourage a special license from the city, much like there is in Vancouver and Victoria.
The club quickly expanded to more than 600 members who purchased dried cannabis and other marijuana products or came to find out how to get a prescription. They range in age, but Hauk said most members are 35 to 65 years old and suffer from cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, or chronic pain.
"I've had people say to me that they need derivatives, they need edibles. Lung cancer patients who can't smoke, they need derivatives, which the Supreme Court has very clearly said months ago that Canadians citizens have a right to consume and possess," Hauk said. "Also [it's important to create the opportunity] for someone to come in and interact with a human being, see their medicine, ask questions about their medicine, or buy only $5 or $10 worth."
Hauk understands that he was operating illegally but said it's a bad law—besides, city officials were looking into permits and the national opinion around medicinal marijuana is quickly changing. It's just not changing as fast in Saskatoon.
Just before the police raid, SPS Inspector Dave Haye told VICE his officers are instructed not to issue warnings to recreational weed smokers. "We will charge on a leftover roach if we can," he said. "It's how we feel about the use of illicit drugs in this area."
They didn't give the dispensary a warning either. Police would not talk about the charges now that the matter is before the courts but pointed to 15 bullet-points on a press release to "clarify" the charges. The points reiterated that selling marijuana is illegal, people with prescriptions have legal suppliers, and that "if action was not taken, more 'clubs' would open."
"There is a misconception that the Saskatoon Police Service has the highest charge rate for possession of marihuana. This is not accurate," the release said, referencing a recent CBC analysis that put Saskatoon in the top five Canadian cities for the highest per-capita rate of marijuana charges.
SPS provided VICE with numbers from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics of charges per 100,000 population which kept the city near the top of the list, but showed the number was decreasing.
Police also referenced a cease and desist letter sent by Health Canada in September to 13 illegal marijuana dispensaries and compassion clubs across the country, which warned that RCMP could be raided if they don't shut down. So far, Saskatoon Police are alone in their action on the warning.
Hauk isn't buying that it's the letter that led to the raid and doesn't think all of the charges will stand up in court.
"I don't need to be a lawyer to tell you that I'm not worried about [some of] them. The three kilograms of 'cannabis oil' in my home is actually vegetable juice and I'm sure they are realizing that by now," Hauk said.
"I see they are still sticking to the story that it's a dangerous drug lab in my home. In fact, [SPS Inspector] Haye was so ignorant today, he made a comment about the fact that my house was messy. Since when is that a fucking crime, right?"
Hauk said ideally the charges will get thrown out of court, he will go back to his operations, and the federal program will be amended to provide reasonable access to medicinal marijuana.
"Worst case scenario is that one or more of those charges somehow stick," he said.
But what brings Hauk to tears is thinking about the three other people arrested during the raid. Two women also face trafficking and possession charges, while the other man arrested was a national champion pole vaulter and former University of Saskatchewan Huskies star with Crohn's disease, according to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
"The three people I was arrested with are three of the kindest, gentlest, people you could ever meet in your life," he said. "These are just incredible people that contribute to our community. They are just the opposite of the people that we should be prosecuting."
The only other medical marijuana dispensary in the province of Saskatchewan is still open in Whitewood.
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