Armed with a search warrant, officers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) entered a marijuana dispensary in Campbell River, BC on Wednesday, just a few days after it opened, and seized all the cash, cannabis flowers, and extracts on site.
But they left behind all of the edibles, including THC-infused brownies and caramels, much to the confusion and relief of those who work at Trees Dispensary.
"We were a little bit befuddled that they didn't take all our products," Alex Robb, the dispensary's community liaison, said the day after the raid. "But I think this shows the RCMP's acknowledgement of the importance of access to edible cannabis products for the people here."
But Staff Sergeant Troy Beauregard wouldn't address whether that's the case, telling VICE News in an interview: "I won't respond to any comments made by somebody selling pot, quite frankly."
He added that the types of items seized at the dispensary were guided by case law.
"We are always looking to collect best evidence, and that's what we did in this case," he said. "They can have their opinions, but what I can say is that our investigation is dictated by the best evidence."
The RCMP detained one store employee, but released him without charge in the afternoon. Todd says the dispensary, one of two in Campbell River, will remain open despite the raid, but they will only sell edibles for now.
"They might raid and try to shut us down again," he said. "We don't want to alienate the RCMP or city council, but at the same time, there never would have been a legal provision for medical cannabis in the first place if it weren't for people like us doing civil disobedience."
After the new Liberal government came to power in November with a promise to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the number of marijuana dispensaries opening across the country has skyrocketed — some estimate there could be in the hundreds — even though they're technically illegal. At the same time, there has been a spike in police raids of dispensaries in recent months, including one in Chilliwack, BC earlier this week, and in Saskatoon last year. However, in Toronto, police have said they will more or less turn a blind eye to the booming dispensary industry there unless they get a complaint.
Cannabis is only legal in Canada for people with medical prescriptions who either have a license to grow their own supply, thanks to a recent BC federal court ruling, or purchase it through one of the government-sanctioned companies who produce it and ship it through the mail.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last summer that Canadians with a prescription have the right to consume cannabis in edible form — something that had previously been illegal. But the government has not provided a government-approved avenue for patients to access ready-made edibles, a big reason why people go to dispensaries.
Health Canada would not comment on the raids or whether dispensaries will be included in consultations on legalization, but a spokesperson said in an email: "Dispensaries and other sellers of marijuana who are not licensed under the current law are illegal."
With no clear indication from the government as to when legalization will happen, and what impact that will have on dispensaries, cannabis advocates say Canadian law enforcement is taking an arbitrary approach when it comes to cracking down on illegal pot in the interim.
"What we're seeing right now is an expression of an RCMP that is uncertain how to act certainly in the wake of new court decisions and the idea that legalization is coming," said Robb.
"The officers even told Ben, the employee who was there, that unlike other jurisdictions where the RCMP has limited time and resources to pursue these cases, the RCMP here has ample time to enforce it. I believe they even told him that this excited them. That there's something for them to do."
Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer for Trees who has fought a number of marijuana-related cases at the Supreme Court, added that one of his clients, well-known pot activist Dana Larsen, was arrested in Calgary the same day as the raid, and charged with trafficking marijuana seeds.
Larsen was on the first-leg of a countrywide "Overgrow Canada" tour to give away a million cannabis seeds and encourage people to plant them. He has also been promoting his petition calling on the government to stop arresting people for pot possession.
Tousaw says Larsen, who also runs a cannabis dispensary in BC, has been let out on bail, but as part of his conditions, he must not be in possession of marijuana, except when he's at work.
"I was a bit surprised by this exception. And it just shows you what a messy situation we're in at the moment," Tousaw said in an interview. "What we're seeing over and over with recent court decisions is that the government really has no basis to keep it illegal. And their justifications for keeping it illegal do not hold water."
When it comes to dispensaries, Tousaw says he will continue to keep an eye on charges laid during raids, and fight to have them be part of the government's consultation process for legalization.
"I look at each charge as a tragedy for the people involved and the patients losing access, but also as an opportunity for further law reform," he said. "We're talking about how to stop involving the RCMP in medical cannabis issues, and dispensaries are the heart of access for cannabis in all its forms."
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne