Four charged in Guelph medical pot club bust
By: Thana Dharmarajah, Guelph Mercury
GUELPH — The founder of the Medical Cannabis Club of Guelph is among four people charged with drug trafficking following a bust by city police.
Rade Kovacevic, 24, is charged with six counts of trafficking marijuana; four counts of trafficking hashish; two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking and one count of drug production.
He was charged Thursday after city police searched the club, at 62 Baker St., as well as five other addresses on Dublin Street, London Road, Arrow Road and Quebec Street.
More than 20 kilograms of dried marijuana were recovered by police as well as several vials of ground marijuana, 258 marijuana plants, a quantity of marijuana-laced muffins, scones, cakes and cookies and more than $10,000 cash. Police estimated the value of seized drug items at in excess of $100,000.
Court heard Friday, when all four accused made a bail appearance, that in April, Guelph Police began investigating alleged illegal sales of controlled substances out of the cannabis club on Baker Street. The club, which opened more than three years ago, dispenses medical marijuana and has grown to about 240 members.
At least three undercover officers acquired licences from the club, which doesn’t have the authorization to issue a licence to possess marijuana, said federal Crown attorney David Doney. With the licences, they were able to purchase marijuana and hashish on several occasions from the club staff, he said.
Guelph Police spokesperson Sergeant Doug Pflug said only one of the accused had a Health Canada licence to possess or grow 30 marijuana plants. The other three individuals didn’t have licences and Kovacevic was still in the application process with Health Canada.
“We believe these folks have operated outside (Health Canada) guidelines and regulations,” Pflug said.
According to Health Canada, private medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal and legal access to marijuana for medical reasons can only be obtained from Health Canada. The government does permit designated growers, but they aren’t authorized to grow marijuana for more than two people.
All four of the accused were released following bail court Friday with strict conditions. They were represented by Toronto lawyer Ron Marzel who has had success challenging marijuana regulations in court.
At one point, the Guelph court took a break as officers learned Kovacevic was on the floor of his cell suffering from muscle spasms. Kovacevic is a medical marijuana user as he suffers from myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease and three herniated discs.
He was to be taken to hospital, but a physician in the courtroom was able to assist and Kovacevic remained to listen to the conditions of his release.
The justice of the peace released Kovacevic on $10,000 bail and issued conditions that he not have contact with any of the other co-accused apart from his fiancée Nicole Freeborn, 31, of Guelph, except through legal counsel. He is to reside at a residence authorized by the court, not possess or ingest any controlled substances except in accordance with a medical prescription, not possess any weapons and remain within Ontario.
Scott Gilbert, a 27-year-old employee of the medical club, was one of the other individuals charged with six counts of trafficking marijuana; two counts of trafficking hashish; two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking and one count of drug production.
Gilbert said after he was released on bail that he was surprised when the bust took place, as club members had met with city police several times.
“If they had concerns about our procedures, we would have been more than happy to make accommodations,” he said.
Gilbert said the staff hasn’t been able to figure out yet who the undercover officers might have been who purchased the marijuana.
“The result of these actions is that $1 million of marijuana is now going to be put back into the hands of street level drug dealers,” he said.
There is an intention to reopen the club, Gilbert said, although it was closed Friday and will be for a brief period.
Toronto medical marijuana activist Mark Stupak came to support the four accused on Friday since he assisted the Guelph club with mentoring and advice. He was accompanied by at least 20 family members, friends and supporters of the four.
Stupak said he’s been in and out of courtrooms for the last seven years. He was charged about five times with similar charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking as he also grows for 11 medical marijuana users.
“Every time we go to court and present our side of the issue, we win,” he said, adding that the real punishment is being litigated and having to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer.
Freeborn, charged with one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking, was also released on $5,000 bail and conditions that she not have contact with two of the co-accused apart from her fiancé Kovacevic, reside at a residence authorized by the court and not possess any controlled substances except in accordance with a Health Canada licence.
Eitan Gallant, 24, of Guelph, is charged with three counts of trafficking marijuana; one count of trafficking hashish; two counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking and one count of drug production.
Gilbert and Gallant were released on $5,000 bail with conditions that they not have contact with any of the co-accused, not attend 62 Baker St. except with a police officer to retrieve any belongings, and not possess any controlled substances except in accordance with a medical prescription.
All four accused are to return to court on May 31.
Thana Dharmarajah is a Mercury staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org