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Dispensary owner says she and others should be pardoned once pot is legal

"In 2016, 55,000 people in Canada faced pot-related charges. The rates are even higher in Hamilton
"You know when you’re doing something like that that there’s going to be an end at some point," says Britney Guerra of Stoney Creek, who recently pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. But it's a harder pill to swallow, she says, when she sees politicians and the government getting rich off pot. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

At CannaGems in Hamilton's International Village, marijuana-inspired jewelry dangles delicately from the displays.

There are blown glass ornaments that looks like octopus tentacles. There's an assortment of leather strap beads. There are earrings in the shape of turtles.

This is the only marijuana-related business Britney Guerra can legally operate anymore — at least for the foreseeable future. She's on probation for charges relating to operating Hamilton's now-closed Cannabis Culture dispensary.

In July, marijuana will be legal in Canada, and the Ontario government will sell pot through the LCBO. Meanwhile, Guerra and thousands of others will still have criminal records.

Until she and others are pardoned for pot crimes, she said, that's hypocritical.

With a criminal record, there are varying degrees of stigma but there’s always a stigma," says Jack Lloyd, whose interest in marijuana inspired him to become a lawyer. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"There are people who have had marijuana charges for 20 years who are still going to be walking around with marijuana charges."

Guerra, 30, has a personal stake in this. In December, she pleaded guilty to one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking, and one count of possessing profits from the proceeds of crime over $5,000. She was fined $13,000 and received 18 months of probation. The conditions include not operating a dispensary.

But she's not the only one making the argument. Sarnia's mayor, for example, has called on the Trudeau government to clear the criminal records of people charged with pot possession.

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, extends that to dispensary workers. The current system criminalizes small business owners, he said, while government insiders are getting rich.

Corporations, politicians and bureaucrats are investing in pot, he said. That includes Hamilton's mayor, former MP Gary Goodyear and former MP and Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, who once compared weed to murder.

Britney Guerra serves customers at Cannabis Culture in early 2017. The dispensary was raided and shut down in March. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Marijuana, Green said, is "about to be bigger than the tech boom." Political involvement in its distribution, he said last year, is "as close to insider trading as we're ever going to see."

"I will not support the further criminalization of small business owners," he said, and "often times, lower-income folks who are trying to access this process that are shut down and sent to jail."

Not everyone agrees. Last year, Hamilton city council urged police to crack down harder on the city's 19 marijuana dispensaries. Dispensaries, said Coun. Doug Conley of Ward 9, "have a negative impact on the neighbourhood (they are) operating in, as well as the entire Hamilton community."

Police have responded accordingly. Last week, officers raided the SOS Dispensary on King Street East. They'll keep doing that, they say, until laws change.

"The Hamilton Police Service will continue to investigate all allegations of criminal activity, including the sale and trafficking of marijuana from dispensaries," the service said last week.

As for Guerra, her arrest happened as part of a wider bust that included Marc and Jodie Emery, famed marijuana activists and founders of the Cannabis Culture brand."...

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