07/05/2013 09:26 EDT | Updated 09/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Medical marijuana bust angers New Westminster operators

The lawyer for the operator of a New Westminster medical marijuana dispensary says police wasted time and money targeting his client with a year-long undercover operation.

New Westminster police have recommended charges against three people after raiding the N.I.C.E dispensary in May.

A search warrant obtained by CBC News details a year-long investigation into the venture, which was run by Justin Cleveland, head of the West Coast Green Light Society advocacy organization.

Cleveland's lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, says his client was completely transparent as to his intentions, informing the city with a detailed proposal for a two-year trial period.

"I think that most Canadians would agree that using scarce police resources to investigate and ultimately arrest people that are trying to help others with medical conditions access medical cannabis isn't the most effective use of these resources," Tousaw says.

"If I was a taxpayer in New Westminster — and it is a municipal police force — I'd be wondering what the priorities of New Westminster Police Department are."

Pot dispensaries still illegal

Although Health Canada licenses individuals to possess marijuana for personal medical use, dispensaries are technically illegal. But some municipal police forces — like Vancouver's — have turned a blind eye to the practice.

New regulations introduced last month still make no provision for marijuana dispensaries, instead allowing patients to purchase medical marijuana from licensed growers by mail order.

- Read more about mail order marijuana

- More on the current legal status of marijuana

Cleveland opened the dispensary in 2012, making presentations to residents associations and informing the city of his plans.

"There appeared to be a great deal of community support for their activity," says Tousaw. "It was quite a surprise to Mr. Cleveland when

the police took it upon themselves to intervene in the situation."

According to the search warrant, police received a Crime Stoppers tip about the dispensary in May 2012.They spent the next year investigating, running three different undercover scenarios.

On one occasion, a male and female officer posed as "a Hispanic couple with little English skills."

"[We] slowly and sheepishly approached the counter to ask several questions," the detective writes. "I explained that my wife 'Maria' ... was suffering from bursitis, which I understood was an inflammation of the hip."

"When I asked how we could get marijuana for Maria to use, Cleveland explained that all they [the operators of the dispensary] needed was for 'Maria' to provide a doctor's note confirming that she suffered from an illness and would benefit from the use of marijuana.

"I asked ... if it was possible to purchase marijuana without a doctor's note of some kind. [They] declined my request advising that, while they sympathized with us, selling marijuana without a doctor's note was against their company policy."

On a different occasion, the warrant states that another undercover officer was also rejected after showing an expired Health Canada license to possess marijuana.

"Cleveland explained that [the detective] would have to renew his license to possess before becoming a member. Cleveland then printed off renewal forms."

It was only after presenting what appeared to be a valid Health Canada marijuana license and her driver's license that a third undercover operator was allegedly able to apply for membership in the dispensary and purchase four grams of marijuana for $40.

Police defend actions

Staff Sgt. Paul Hyland says police were simply doing their job.

"Certainly the way those laws and the way Health Canada deals with those is under the purveyance of the federal government. But if there are allegations of illegal behaviour, then they will be investigated."

Marijuana advocate Dana Larsen disagrees.

"I think that the New Westminster police made the wrong decision to go in there and raid this place," he says.

"They certainly had the option to deal with it differently because many other municipalities and police forces around B.C. have allowed dispensaries to operate and have made them a very low priority for their policing."

Larsen says legal precedence involving marijuana dispensary cases has resulted in conditional discharges for other accused.

"This huge amount of police resources and court resources in this case is going to result in nothing in the end. Just a bunch of wasted time on everyone's part."

Hyland says charges have been forwarded to federal Crown counsel against three people. The charges include possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking as well as trafficking in a controlled substance.

Tousaw says he hopes Crown won't pursue the matter any further.

"I certainly will be urging the Crown to decline to approve charges because I think most Canadians will agree that it's not in the public interest to prosecute people like Mr. Cleveland and the others involved in the N.I.C.E. dispensary for actions that I think most Canadians will view as compassionate, motivated properly and done respectfully and in a very transparent and open way in the community."