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The legalization battle comes to Halifax

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Photo: Hilary Beaumont

Photo: Hilary Beaumont

In front of the Halifax police station at 4:20 p.m. on Sept. 19, Chris Enns lit a joint and brought it to his lips. The owner of Halifax’s first marijuana vapour lounge puffed and passed to one of about 40 supporters and medical pot users gathered on the sidewalk.

In early September, police raided the Farm Assists vapour lounge and cannabis resource centre on Gottingen Street, a residence on East Chezzetcook Road and a location on Colford Drive, arresting four people and seizing hundreds of marijuana plants and a large amount of money.

When Farm Assists opened in June, Enns said the store and vapour lounge would provide marijuana to licensed customers. However, he planned to sell his own product, which legally he is only allowed to grow for himself and one other person. Enns believed the store was operating in a legal grey area. “Anyone who has a license, I’ll step out on a limb and sell the excess from my production,” he said at the time.

Now Enns, his partner Sherri Reeve and their customers gathered, armed with signs, joints and a megaphone outside police headquarters. “Listen, the government has given this as a medicine for us to use,” Enns said through the megaphone. “They’ve opened the door and there’s no turning back.”

Halifax Regional Police issued a press release about the raids. “Drug activity often involves violence that puts innocent citizens at risk and is detrimental to the overall safety of our communities,” it said, adding that complaints from the public prompted the investigation.

But a bigger issue facing Enns, Reeve and their customers isn’t law enforcement, but the laws themselves. Lately federal regulations around medical pot use have been hazy. Earlier this year the government tried to stop licensed patients from growing pot at home, but a March court ruling quashed the new rules.

Under his Guy Fawkes mask, Ralph Carl Phillips lit up alongside the other protesters. The former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children uses marijuana to treat his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, triggered by abuse at the home. Phillips received his medical marijuana license in August. When he called all 13 government dispensaries across the country, however, officials said they weren’t taking new patients. He isn’t allowed to grow his own plants because he falls under new regulations.

Phillips says the government has left him with few options for obtaining the drug legally, and he doesn’t want to feel like a criminal for medicating himself.

Several medical marijuana patients who attended the rally echoed his sentiments, agreeing that it is increasingly difficult to access the government weed their licenses give them permission to buy. Many of them have turned to Farm Assists for easy access to the drug.

The September raids weren’t the shop’s first run-in with police. In March 2013, police also searched the Farm Assists’ Porters Lake location, leading to trafficking charges against Enns and Reeve.

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