‘Budtender’ says marijuana dispensary bosses left him high and dry after raid

By: Jacquie Miller

A “budtender” who was arrested in a raid on an Ottawa marijuana dispensary says he feels betrayed by his former employer, who has refused to help him with legal bills.

Shawn McAlesse says he believed he was working in a “legal grey zone” and helping people when he accepted a job with a B.C.-based dispensary chain in Ottawa last summer. 

And while McAlesse says he’s glad that charges have been thrown out against 151 Toronto budtenders who were arrested at dispensary raids in that city, he has no indication the same thing will happen in Ottawa. No charges have been withdrawn against the 22 dispensary employees arrested in 12 raids in this city. 

McAlesse was behind the counter when police raided the Green Tree Medical Dispensary on Montreal Road last November. He faces 11 counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking, one count of possessing the proceeds of crime, and one count of simple possession because he had a joint in his pocket.  

Shortly after his arrest, McAlesse says his Ottawa manager delivered the bad news: The bosses in Vancouver would not pay his legal bills and did not want any further contact with him. Green Tree was one of seven related stores, the others operating under the names WeeMedical Dispensary Society and CannaGreen. All of them were raided; four have since re-opened. 

McAlesse said he was given the impression by managers that he didn’t need to worry about being arrested, but that if it happened the company “would have a lawyer standing by us.” 

He said managers stressed how the dispensaries were helping medical marijuana patients, an ideal that McAlesse embraced, because he has benefited himself.  

“They took advantage of the fact a lot of us (budtenders) are for medical marijuana. They (said they) shared those ideals, then they threw us to the wolves when we got arrested. 

“It angers me. I feel they manipulated me, they abused me, 100 per cent. There aren’t enough metaphors in the world to explain how I feel about those guys.” 

The nine employees arrested at the Green Tree-related stores face serious criminal charges, while the owners “rack up the cash,” McAlesse said. 

He worked at both a WeeMedical and a Green Tree store. He estimates each store took in $8,000 to $12,000 a day from sales of dried pot, candy, pop, cookies and oils, and they are open seven days a week.

“I’m sure they can afford lawyer fees.” 

His boss was Justin Liu, said McAlesse. Liu is one of the directors of the WeeMedical Dispensary Society, according to registration papers filed in British Columbia. The Citizen has been unable to interview Liu or anyone from Green Tree, WeeMedical or CannaGreen despite repeated efforts since the dispensaries first arrived in town last summer. 

Requests sent to the email addresses on the Green Tree and WeeMedical websites have not been returned. The Citizen reached Liu once, using a phone number that was briefly listed on the CannaGreen website, but he quickly ended the conversation, saying he was about to hop on a plane and would call back, which he did not. The voice mailbox for that number is now full. 

At the WeeMedical headquarters in Vancouver, in three calls over the past week, the people answering the phone said they would try to find a company spokesperson, but no one phoned back. They refused to provide contact information for Liu. 

McAlesse said that because the stores operated openly he didn’t think he was doing anything illegal. “A storefront operation, with multiple locations across the city, seems so above-board – even though it’s a grey area.” 

McAlesse is proud of his work at the dispensaries, saying they provide a valuable service. He says he helped many people, including giving advice on how to sign up to buy medical marijuana legally.  

Medical marijuana is legal if bought from a Health Canada-licensed grower. But some people can’t find a doctor to prescribe marijuana or can’t afford the fees charged by clinics who employ cannabis-friendly doctors, he said. Others want edible products such as cookies and brownies that legal suppliers aren’t allowed to sell. 

McAlesse said his managers told him to ask customers to fill out a form listing their medical conditions, and advise them that a “company doctor” would contact them later. He said he had no concerns about the safety or quality of the cannabis products, because it was better than what can be brought on the street. Health Canada has warned that products at dispensaries are unregulated and may be unsafe. 

McAlesse said the owner of a vapour lounge in Saskatoon, a fellow cannabis community activist, has agreed to help with his legal fees, which he said are about $5,000 just for the lawyer retainer. He has also set up a crowd-funding page. 

As he waits for his next court date on April 5, McAlesse said he rarely leaves home. “I’m quite an anxiety-ridden mess.” He held previous jobs at a plumbing store and a Tim Hortons, but it will be hard to find work now. “It’s a little hard to find a job when you’re a suggested drug dealer.” 

Original article can be found here

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