A Brandon couple who had their legal medicinal marijuana grow-op mistakenly raided by RCMP have accused the force of shoddy investigating.
The allegation is made in a lawsuit recently filed by Brandon residents Jerry Pomehichuk and Brenda Wakefield against the RCMP, Health Canada and others.
Essentially, they claim that RCMP officers obtained a warrant, searched their property and seized plants without confirmation of whether they had valid licences to produce and have medicinal marijuana — as it turned out, they did.
"As a result, the warrant was obtained and the charges were laid upon information that was incomplete, inaccurate and/or showed a wanton disregard for proper or reasonable investigation protocols, techniques or procedure," claims the lawsuit, which was filed last month in Winnipeg Court of Queen’s Bench.
The RCMP and three of its officers, the Attorney General of Canada, Health Canada and the federal minister of health are named as defendants.
The lawsuit comes after charges against Pomehichuk were dropped, and the court ordered RCMP to give back the marijuana they seized. Wakefield wasn’t arrested or charged.
The lawsuit claims damages in an amount to be determined by the court if the couple wins their case.
Pomehichuk and Wakefield are common-law partners.
Health Canada had issued each valid personal-use production licences and authorizations to possess dried marijuana for medical purposes, the claim states.
Combined, they were entitled to produce up to 292 plants at their warehouse just near the city’s edge.
The couple asserts that RCMP contacted Health Canada to determine whether the warehouse operation was licensed, but were only told that there were no "business" operators in the area.
In addition, the claim states, when RCMP provided the plaintiffs’ names to Health Canada to confirm if they had valid licences, the department didn’t immediately respond.
Despite that incomplete information and a limited investigation, RCMP "hastily" and "negligently" obtained a warrant anyway and raided the warehouse on June 21, 2015, states the claim.
It also claims that an RCMP officer misleadingly told the couple that the licences were expired and the number of plants at the site were over the legal limit.
It’s claimed that police seized 206 marijuana plants and five kilograms of dried marijuana, which was far below the amount the couple was allowed to have.
Pomehichuk was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking. Both charges were later dropped.
It was only after the search and arrest that Health Canada advised the RCMP that the plaintiffs held valid licences for the production and possession of medical marijuana.
While the court ordered the return of the marijuana when the charges against Pomehichuk were later dropped, the claim states that all the plants had already been destroyed and most of the dried marijuana was ruined by mould.
Also, the claim states that even though Pomehichuk had offered to let police into the building and to show them the licences, officers did $400 damage to a steel door as they entered the warehouse.
They were also charged $2,695 for a safety inspection firefighters did prior to the search.
In conclusion, the claim argues that police didn’t have reasonable and probable grounds to get a warrant so the search and seizure was illegal, and Pomehichuk’s arrest was unlawful.
The couple blames Health Canada for failing to maintain proper means for notifying police and other authorities about legitimate licences.
Health Canada and RCMP didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time on Tuesday.
Generally, defendants have 20 days to respond to a lawsuit, but as of Tuesday no statements of defence had been filed.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, while vacationing in the United States, Pomehichuk declined further comment until he had spoken with his lawyer.
However, he’d previously explained that he uses marijuana to treat pain for vertebrae that were crushed in a motorcycle accident. His wife uses it to treat back and knee pain.
They rarely smoke marijuana, he said, preferring to use a refined oil extract.
After the charges against him were dropped, Pomehichuk said the incident showed that law enforcement hasn’t kept up with medical marijuana laws. Police don’t see marijuana as medicine, but as a thing to be controlled, he said.
At that time, RCMP disagreed that the raid was a reflection of a bad attitude toward medicinal marijuana on the part of police. Rather, it was described as an honest mistake based on miscommunication with Health Canada.