Saint John police have sparked a debate over what seems to be a growing industry in the Maritimes. This week, police raided and shut down several marijuana dispensaries that they say were operating illegally, but some argue it’s a necessary service.

Brock Merchant is the son of the owner of HBB Medical Inc, one of six marijuana dispensaries raided. Merchant says they had hundreds of regular customers, who have now lost a fast and reliable source of marijuana products.

“Right now unfortunately, even if they want to go through licensed producers, you’re three to five days away. So that being said, you turn to the black market, you’re back down with buddy down the street, and God knows what you’re buying,” says Merchant.

On Tuesday, police moved in on every dispensary in Saint John, shutting them down and charging 12 people with trafficking.

Dispensaries have been raided in other communities across the country. Marijuana advocates say it often turns out to be a wasted effort.

In a statement to CTV Atlantic, Chris Rideout of Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana said:

“Many dispensaries from coast-to-coast that have been subjected to police action and subsequent charges being laid have, after a court appearance or two, had their charges stayed or dismissed.”

But others say police had no choice.

“From a police officer’s perspective, this is an illegal activity until the law says otherwise,” says Mary Anne Campbell, chair of the Centre for Criminal Justice at the University of New Brunswick Saint John.

Campbell explains that even though Ottawa has committed to the legalization of marijuana, there are many questions yet to be answered.

“We don’t know what the new legislation is going to look like, what the boundaries are going to be, what the regulations are going to be about, who can and cannot sell this stuff and under what conditions?” says Campbell.

Brock Merchant believes his family’s dispensary will eventually be back in business.

In the meantime, the 12 people charged this week have been told to be in court on May 2, to answer to charges of trafficking.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.