Shouts, a siren and marijuana smoke were in the air outside the Kentville courthouse Monday as a few dozen people protested the arrest of a woman for allegedly operating a marijuana dispensary.
The protesters carried signs decrying Canada’s marijuana laws and demanding the release of Heidi Chartrand. She was among seven people arrested on drug trafficking charges Friday after alleged marijuana storefronts in Kings and Annapolis counties were raided by police, less than a month before the federal legalization of pot.
Most of the people arrested were released on undertakings to show up in court at later dates, but Chartrand was held in custody over the weekend. Sources said she didn’t agree to the release conditions proposed by police Friday, so a justice of the peace ordered her detained.
Chartrand appeared in Kentville provincial court Monday afternoon with duty counsel Brian Vardigans. She was released on conditions that included she not be within two metres of a marijuana dispensary or store selling marijuana, and that she not own or be employed by an operation selling marijuana.
Three dozen supporters, many wearing marijuana-themed clothing, had to be admonished by court staff for cheering and applauding when a crying Chartrand was brought into the courtroom.
Outside the courthouse for most of the day, protesters chanted and waved signs, and alternated yelling through a bullhorn and using its siren function.
At one point, one woman walked into traffic waving a sign at a hearse that was driving by.
Later in the morning, sheriff’s department deputies rushed to the back parking lot of the courthouse, reportedly because some protesters were approaching a Crown attorney. One person could be seen following a car and waving a sign, but that vehicle appeared to be driven by a Crown attorney not involved in the bail hearing.
Debbie Stultz-Giffin of the group Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana said people were at the courthouse to protest both Chartrand’s arrest and her detention.
“Of all the dispensaries that were hit, (she) has been the most active and the most vocal in trying to create meaningful effective change for patients,” Stultz-Giffin said.
“It looks as if all the medical dispensaries in this province are about to be gone.”
She said the provincial government is “foolhardedly believing that Nova Scotia liquor store cannabis outlets will effectively meet the needs of patients, and they’re sadly mistaken.”
She said with it being illegal to sell medical or recreational marijuana in the province, dispensaries and their supporters “were not naive enough to know the possibility (of searches and arrests) didn’t exist, but it’s highly disappointing that the majority of raids of dispensaries have been on a complaint basis, not under the direction of the provincial government. It certainly appears ... that this time around it is politically motivated.”
Waterville resident Wayne Bezanson says he’s not a medical user of marijuana but supports dispensaries. He disagrees with the NSLC selling marijuana, and says he believes government should not profit off the product.
“I think there’s no need of it, personally. If you’ve read Heidi’s blogs, she’s very passionate about it. She works with every one of her clients, she doesn’t sell to unlicensed people,” he says.
Kentville resident Tabatha Ward is a licensed medical user, and says dispensaries provide a service and also a “sense of community” to those who buy product from them.
“Cannabis saved my life, as it saves many lives. We need dispensaries — a safe place to be able to get our medication, and this is not right — it’s not,” she says.
Not all of Chartrand’s supporters were happy that she agreed to be released on conditions. At least two people seemed angry, with one saying they were surprised she did so, and a man saying that “she bowed down to the police.”
RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said marijuana dispensaries are simply not legal.
“Health Canada is the only way to get legal marijuana right now — there’s nothing grey about it,” she said.
During the searches Friday, two storefronts on Commercial Street in New Minas, one on Argus Drive in Greenwood, a business on Main Street in Middleton and a home on Granville Road in Annapolis Royal were searched. Three men and four women in Kings County were arrested, on trafficking charges, and drug and firearms charges are pending against a man in Annapolis County.
Chartrand will appear in court again Oct. 23, while the others are due in court Dec. 18.