Gillian Sampson, 29, of Pomquet, the owner of the medical dispensary Tasty Budd’s in Antigonish had all of her charges withdrawn in Nova Scotia Supreme Court February 26 in exchange for dropping her constitutional challenge.

ANTIGONISH: The owner of the medical dispensary in Antigonish who had all her charges withdrawn in exchange for stopping her constitutional challenge, will be closing her doors.

Alexander Mackillop, the lawyer for Gillian Sampson and Tasty Budd’s, said through a joint recommendation, the company pleaded guilty to trafficking of a controlled substance and was issued a $50,000 fine, and in exchange, all charges were dropped in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on February 26.

“About halfway through the first day, I spoke with my client and mentioned a thing called a corporate plea, and I decided it would be a good idea to pitch it to the Crown,” Mackillop told The Reporter. “A corporate plea involves all charges being dropped against the individual person and the corporation steps up and takes a guilty plea to one of the counts, and receives a very substantial and hefty fine as a sentence.”

Mackillop, who litigates a lot of cannabis cases, said despite not following through with the constitutional challenge, this is a significant victory for Sampson.

“I’ve seen a change in the collective public conscious and there’s also been a change in the courts, as you and I both know, five-to-10-years-ago, there’s no way anyone would receive a corporate plea for something like that,” he said. “And you’d be looking at doing some significant time, but lately I can tell you, I’ve been getting discharges for owners, I’ve been getting fines for owners, and just getting better resolutions for people compared to the old days.”

Mackillop said he considers it a victory because it’s another step in the right direction, but he does question why medical dispensaries are not regulated.

Sampson, 29, of Pomquet was charged as a result of an eight-month investigation headed by Halifax RCMP’s Street Crime Enforcement Unit that led to 69 charges, involving 10 people, during nine searches on August 24, 2017. Police say the individuals involved were using the dispensaries to commit a variety of criminal activities, setting up a criminal network and were generating revenue to purchase proceeds of crime.

On August 24, 2017, following an eight-month investigation, the RCMP executed nine search warrants at five marijuana storefronts, including Tasty Budd’s in Antigonish.

Sampson faced charges of trafficking of a controlled substance, possession for the purpose of trafficking, and possession of property obtained by proceeds of crime. She entered not guilty pleas to all of her charges during an election and plea hearing in February 2018. Mackillop indicated that with a charge involving more than three kilograms of product, Sampson was facing a maximum sentence of 14-years.

Despite not proceeding with the constitutional challenge, he said like any type of negotiation, he has to do what’s best for his client. He believes when lawyers can have a resolution where charges are dropped and other dispensary owners could potentially use that as a precedent, that’s a victory.

“Gillian as an individual person was putting herself out there quite a bit to try and help the community, where there was a hole in the access regime and I can’t say enough of how proud I am of her,” he said. “And I think she did the smart thing by accepting the offer. I believe we had a strong case, there is a lot of strength to it, but there are also weaknesses, now those weaknesses are created from a lack of regulation.”

Speaking on Tasty Budd’s constitutional challenge, Mackillop said if successful, the result would have set precedent in Nova Scotia, would have been persuasive in other jurisdictions and would have been the biggest cannabis accomplishment in Canadian history.

Although Nova Scotia has cannabis in some retail NSLC locations, Mackillop said that doesn’t provide access to all those with medical issues.

“It’s for recreational purposes, no one in there has any knowledge about any of the medical components,” he said, noting that the medical aspect is not part of the NSLC’s mandate. “Now mind you, they do a good job of labeling the product to see the THC and CBD levels but it’s not intended for medical patients, so if they can find a way to regulate private shops, that’s a way they could fix this conundrum.”

As for the medical dispensary in Antigonish, there is a sign on their door reading “Tasty Budd’s Will Be Closing Soon.”

“They’ve been trying for as long as they could to help people but essentially there is only so much you can do,” Mackillop explained. “There was no official order to shut down, but it’s understood.”