When Cale Ralston came across an ad on Craigslist from a local medical cannabis dispensary looking for a budtender, he figured his luck may finally be turning.
Recent surgery after an injury prevented the unemployed 29-year-old construction worker from returning to hard physical labour, but he’d previously worked for the Vancouver Island Compassion Society and knows the bud business.
The gig only paid $12 an hour but at least it was a paycheque.
Ralston said he got an immediate response from Kayla Thompson, the manager of Green Tree Medical Dispensary in Langford, and soon found himself behind the counter after an interview Feb. 20.
Two days later he found himself in handcuffs after West Shore RCMP raided the storefront at 688 Granderson St.
Ralston, who has no previous criminal record, was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking under Section 5(2) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. He said nobody at Green Tree is now returning his requests for legal assistance.
“I want them to take some responsibility and give me some legal help,” Ralston told CLN. “My mom offered to help pay for a lawyer but she would probably have to take out a loan or something or use her mortgage for it.”
Ralston said he was assured during his job interview that he didn’t have to worry about potential legal problems.
“She said we should have no issues with the city and, if there is, we have lawyers and everything should be covered. There shouldn’t be any other issues. We will be getting bylaw tickets but we’ll just keep paying them until they stop. They were very, like, ‘there is going to be no problem and everything will be fine.’”
But while neighbouring Victoria has adopted new business licensing provisions to deal with the booming pot shop scene, the City of Langford is taking a far stricter approach. The city’s first and only dispensary was raided by police the day after opening on Jan. 17 and again on Feb. 15. Last month the city went a step further and filed a civil injunction against Green Tree to prevent them from re-opening.
Ralston said the fact that the owners are known to police makes it absurd that they would charge a front-line retail worker with trafficking.
“It was just ridiculous,” said Ralston. “I was in shock. I literally said ‘I’m not the right person. I’m pretty sure you guys already know who owns this place.’”
When he texted his new employer from the police station, we was told to “chill out” as he had only been in custody for three hours.
Ralston said he hasn’t been paid for his work yet, which is complicated by being forbidden to return to the Granderson Street location as part of his release conditions. A crowdfunding campaign has since been launched to help him get back on his feet.
In a short phone interview with CLN, Thompson disputed Ralston’s characterization of events but confirmed there are no plans to reopen the Langford outlet.
“Our employees know they are taken care of,” she said. “There’s two sides to every story… We don’t have much to say. There’s no comment.”
Green Tree also operate storefront dispensaries on Vancouver Island in Duncan and Nanaimo.
But while Ralston worries over his upcoming court date, there’s a chance he’ll be let off the hook as the crown has stayed charges against dispensary workers in the past. Legislation for the federal Trudeau government’s plans for adult recreational cannabis use is also expected to be tabled by the spring, and — although he has documents regarding his Feb 22 arrest and his pending court date — the information has not yet been entered into the BC Ministry of Justice online court services database.
CLN reached out to West Shore RCMP for clarification.
“Because the matter is still under investigation, I cannot confirm or deny any individuals involved to protect their privacy,” wrote Const. Alex Bérubé in an email. “Once a charge is approved by Crown Counsel (which may vary in terms of length of time due to the nature of the investigation), the name of the person(s) charge becomes accessible to the public.”
In the meantime, Ralston will continue to look for work, although he said he is no longer willing to take a chance at anywhere he might be arrested simply for doing his job.
“I want to write a letter to Justin Trudeau saying ‘dude, while you’re taking your sweet-ass time legalizing while LPs are selling crap that’s proven to be garbage laced with pesticides, people who are looking for work are getting arrested,” he said. “I’ve been out of work since June doing physio and now I’ve got this thing hanging over me.”
Until then the problem dispensary workers face persists. In the past two days alone, RCMP made numerous arrests at other Vancouver Island locations in Chemainus and Duncan.