October 27, 2021

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The Passionate Pursuit of Law

Windsor pot activist bows out of legal fight after 3-year battle

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A prominent Windsor activist criminally charged shortly after Canada legalized the recreational use of cannabis has pleaded guilty to a charge of illegally selling the mind-altering weed.

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“I’m a little bitter,” Leo Lucier told the Star. “I would have liked to fight it, but it’s been three years … and it’s not cheap,” he said of his latest legal battle.

In what had been scheduled as the start of a two-day preliminary hearing before Ontario Court Justice Geoffrey Hornblower, Lucier instead pleaded guilty Thursday to the lesser of the charges he faced. While a sentencing hearing is not expected until the fall, it means he faces a fine but avoids the threat of incarceration if he’d been found guilty after a trial.

Lucier, who has served jail time for previous cannabis convictions in the past, was one of five arrested after an undercover police sting targeted his Compassion House business in the days after the Trudeau Liberals ended pot prohibition.

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“They were looking for blood, and I’m here,” said Lucier, referring to police and prosecutors. Part of the deal worked out between the Crown and defence lawyers on Thursday will see the four co-accused walk after Lucier is sentenced.

Leo Lucier shows his identification at Windsor Police Headquarters while surrendering on Nov. 7, 2018.
Leo Lucier shows his identification at Windsor Police Headquarters while surrendering on Nov. 7, 2018. Photo by Staff photo /Windsor Star

His lawyer, Elizabeth Craig, told the Star that, had the matter gone the next step to trial in Superior Court, the defence would have filed a constitutional challenge against the new federal legislation under which Lucier was charged. Craig said she had lined up one of Canada’s top cannabis legal specialists, but her client told the Star Friday that would have meant more delay and more legal costs.

“Do I want to drag four innocent people without criminal records down that road?” he said.

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Lucier, the owner of Compassion House which operated out of rented space in a small Tecumseh Road plaza west of Ouellette Avenue, surrendered to city police the day after four occupants of the business were arrested during a raid on Nov. 2, 2018. Canada became the second country in the world to legalize pot just two weeks earlier, on Oct. 17.

An undercover officer had made two previous visits and purchased cannabis products before a heavy police presence, armed with a search warrant, raided the business. Among the items seized were pot flower; resin; brownies; lollipops, gummies and other cannabis-containing candies — police pegged with the retail value of the pot products at about $42,000 — as well as packaging, surveillance cameras and over $4,100 in cash.

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In court on Thursday, Lucier wore a Compassion House golf shirt, the same type that police also seized that day.

Before this week, Craig said the federal prosecutor in the case was seeking a nine- to 15-month jail sentence for Lucier. But the judges involved in the lengthy pre-trial proceedings — the COVID-19 pandemic caused part of the delays — advised that a fine would be more appropriate.

The Crown is seeking a hefty $20,000 fine, while the defence is asking for probation.

Lawyer Robert DiPietro, representing one of the co-accused, said many of the Cannabis Act charges he’s seeing go to court end up in discharges for the accused, particularly for those willing to fight it out. In one of his cases involving a local client, he said the prosecution stayed the charges after he advised the Attorney General of Canada’s office he would be filing a constitutional challenge.

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Lucier said he opened Compassion House to serve medical marijuana users at a time when legal cannabis was difficult to access. Every customer entering his business had to fill out and sign a form to that effect. At the time of legalization, said Craig, “Ontario wasn’t ready — people in pain didn’t get access to cannabis for months and months.”

In the early days of legalization, police would warn illegal retail operators in advance that they needed to stop selling cannabis. Windsor’s Compassion House responded to the police raid by reopening and giving pot away for free, asking customers to donate cash, groceries and other items instead for local food banks and homeless and service organizations. The business was flooded with tonnes of donations.

City and provincial police would team up again to raid Compassion House on two more occasions at two locations.

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