Windsor cops lay first Cannabis Act charges after city raid, five arrests

Windsor cops lay first Cannabis Act charges after city raid, five arrests
Owner of Compassion House turns himself in to Windsor police, 5 arrests total
Five people, including long-time Windsor pot activist Leo Lucier, are the first to be charged by the Windsor Police Service under the new federal Cannabis Act.

Five people, including longtime Windsor pot activist Leo Lucier, are the first to be charged by the Windsor Police Service under the new federal Cannabis Act.

The Cannabis Act of Ontario regulates possession, use, sale and distribution of cannabis in the province of Ontario.  Under this legislation the only way to currently purchase legal cannabis is through mail order through the government owned and operated online Ontario Cannabis Store.

Five people face charges after police raid Windsor pot shop

Four individuals were taken into custody Tuesday night following a raid by members of the department’s drugs and guns unit on the Compassion House, a cannabis-based business owned by Lucier.

Lucier was on his way to the Stevie Wonder Song Party concert at Caesars Windsor when he received an alert on his smartphone of a police raid at his business, located at 405 Tecumseh Rd. W in a small West Windsor commercial plaza. He watched in real time as security cameras linked to his phone recorded officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, carting off boxes of seized items, as well as escorting four occupants in handcuffs to an awaiting prisoner van.

The Windsor Police Service would like to remind the public that although cannabis is now legal, they are committing to enforcing existing laws around impaired driving, illegal distribution, cultivation and possession.

Before the start of the concert, Lucier said he called his lawyer: “He told me: ‘Enjoy your night.’”

Police said little at the time but acknowledged the four arrests and added there remained an outstanding warrant for an unnamed fifth person.

At about 5 p.m., officers from DIGS officers entered the business and arrested four people without incident. They also seized a quantity of drugs, money and other property.

Leo Lucier shows his identification at Windsor Police Headquarters while surrendering on Nov. 7, 2018. Staff photo / Windsor Star

Police say all five subjects of the investigation are being charged under the Federal Cannabis Act for selling cannabis to an adult and possession of cannabis for the purpose of selling.

Lucier figured he was that fifth person. Wednesday morning, he announced to his Facebook followers that he would be turning himself in at police headquarters that afternoon.

“It’s a sad day today,” Lucier told reporters as he surrendered himself at the front desk. “It’s a legal substance — how can it be illegal?”

Investigators obtained judicial authorization to search the Compassion House in the 400 block of Tecumseh Road West, which is suspected of selling recreational marijuana.

While recreational cannabis was legalized for adult use in Canada on Oct. 17, Ontario is only allowing online sales from a single government supplier until next spring.

Const. Andy Drouillard said “illegal dispensaries” such as the Compassion House will be targeted by police based on complaints received from the public. He acknowledged the legislation is new and will change again in the spring, with the introduction of legal, privately owned bricks-and-mortar retail outlets, but “we do enforce the laws of the land … that stand at this time.”

Lucier was defiant, vowing to open more such outlets in Windsor soon and to organize a public protest against this week’s raid. He thought it was unfair that he didn’t simply receive a warning to shut down his operation before police launched the raid.

Windsor police say five people have been arrested and are facing charges after a raid at illegal cannabis dispensary in the west end.

“If they had given me a warning, I would’ve shut down,” said Lucier. “I waited until legalization to open (the Compassion House) — if I’m breaking the law, somebody should tell me.”

With the media in tow, Compassion House owner Leo Lucier on his way to Windsor Police headquarters to surrender Wednesday afternoon. Staff photo / Windsor Star

But Drouillard said that “the public is well aware of what the rules are,” and that they’ve been well-publicized.

Windsor police raid the Compassion House on Tecumseh Road West on Tuesday November 6, 2018. ( Angelo Aversa / CTV Windsor )

One of those arrested — they describe themselves as volunteers, while police referred to them as employees — said it was around 5:30 p.m. when about nine officers entered: “‘This is the police! Put your hands up where we can see them. This is a raid.’”

Drouillard said quanities of drugs, money and “other drug paraphernalia” were seized. The five parties have each been charged with two counts — selling cannabis to an adult, and possession of cannabis for the purpose of selling. They were released on a promise to appear in court at a future date.

Accompanying the federal Liberal government’s new legislation legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use — following decades of criminal prohibition — came tougher new penalties for wrongdoers.

Depending on how the Crown proceeds, either summarily or by indictment, convictions on those two federal Cannabis Act charges can result in fines of up to $15,000 and/or jail terms of up to 18 months.

Lucier said his Compassion House had registered more than 5,000 clients over the past three weeks, each of whom signed a document attesting to the medical benefits of cannabis before receiving a membership card.

With the media in tow, Compassion House owner Leo Lucier on his way to Windsor Police headquarters to surrender Wednesday afternoon. Staff photo / Windsor Star

He said the single-source Ontario Cannabis Store has made a mess of the start of cannabis legalization, with some online customers still waiting for orders made three weeks ago. On Wednesday came news of Canada Post admitting to a privacy breach involving thousands of Ontario’s online cannabis customers.

Because of shortages in supply from licensed producers due to higher-than-expected demand, Lucier said his Compassion House was seeing medical cannabis users whose government-approved supply had dried up.

Proceeds from sales, he said, were going towards food bank, mission and women’s shelter donations. When police raided the premises, one of those arrested said police asked about the stacked-up piles of canned foods and cereals, which Lucier said were food bank donations solicited from clients. He said there was also a Mothers Against Drunk Driving donation box on the counter.

“Something has to be done about poverty,” said Lucier, who estimates his pot activism over the past several years has resulted in over seven tonnes of food donations locally. He said pot was given free to veterans coping with PTSD and to those fighting cancer.

The stakes are high for those found guilty of operating an illegal cannabis dispensary. On the eve of legalization on Oct. 17, Ontario’s Ford government warned that anyone still operating an illegal storefront after that date would be forbidden from obtaining a retail operator’s licence once such private enterprises are expected to be given the green light next spring.

With a criminal record for prior cannabis convictions, Lucier said it’s unlikely he’d be able to obtain such a retail licence in any event.

A Windsor judge sentenced Lucier, 48, to 14 months in jail in 2005 after he was nabbed with more than three kilograms of marijuana he described as being for medical purposes.

“The judge told me then, ‘Leo, once marijuana is legal, you’ll be able to sell it.’”

Windsor police have arrested five people in relation to the operation of Compassion House on Tecumseh Road West. 

Police first showed up to the location Tuesday at around 5 p.m., where they arrested four people. Officers also seized drugs, money and other property.

He described Compassion House as his way of using cannabis "to wipe out social issues." One thing he has mentioned was restocking the Kids First Food Bank and his plans to donate winter jackets to children.

"All we know now is that there's a shortage of cannabis for medical users," said Lucier. "I gave all kinds of stuff for free."

Police say all five people are facing charges under the federal Cannabis Act, for selling cannabis to an adult and possession of cannabis for the purpose of selling.

According to Cst. Andy Drouillard, these are the first charges Windsor police have laid under the Federal Cannabis Act.

Recreational marijuana became legal across Canada Oct. 17. In Ontario, the only legal place to purchase it at this time is through the online Cannabis Store. 

Windsor police reminds people they remain committed to enforcing laws around illegal distribution, cultivation and possession of marijuana.

Drouillard said people need to "exercise patience" at this time and refrain from purchasing marijuana through illegal retail operations.

"Laws are obviously changing, and they're changing for good reason," he said. "Things like this take time."

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.