Ottawa’s most well-known marijuana dispensary owner has received a discharge on a drug trafficking charge.
Franco Vigile, co-owner and manager of two Magna Terra dispensaries, and his brother Peter Jordan Vigile, walked away from court Friday with no criminal records after both pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking marijuana.
Ottawa courts have seen several dozen marijuana store clerks plead guilty to drug trafficking and receive discharges. But the Vigiles were the first dispensary owners and managers to face justice. Peter J. Vigile, 25, helped manage the Magna Terra shops on Carling Avenue and on Iber Road in Stittsville.
Unlike most of the city’s pot shops, Magna Terra outlets were clean, bright and set up like a doctor’s office. Franco Vigile even employed a nurse. The stores served only “members” who had a doctor’s authorization for marijuana. Some of the products were lab-tested, according to documents filed in court.
The Vigiles said they were filling a gap in the program for legal medical marijuana, which can only be ordered online and sent by mail and does not include edible products.
The Magna Terra dispensaries were operating illegally, though. Franco Vigile accepts responsibility for that, his lawyer Tony Paciocco said in court. And while Magna Terra was a profit-making business, Franco Vigile also “sought to help people,” he said.
Court heard evidence of Magna Terra customers that included an 80-year-old woman with back pain and an employee at National Defence who used marijuana to help him sleep and relieve symptoms of PTSD. The dispensaries offered discounts to those on low income. One text filed as evidence in court said Magna Terra had 2,000 “patients.”
“I wanted to create a safe and accessible environment for our patients to more easily access the medicine they needed,” said Franco Vigile in a statement he provided Friday. “I was transparent in what I was doing, and didn’t hide it from the city or the police.”
The Crown Attorney agreed with the defence that Franco and Peter Jordan Vigile should receive discharges, conditional upon serving probation and doing 100 hours of community service. It’s a “very unique circumstance,” said Crown Attorney Pascal Meilleur-Durand.
Neither of the Vigile brothers has a criminal record. Both are relatively young and spared the court the expense of a trail by pleading guilty, he said.
Like many of those who worked at illegal dispensaries, the Vigiles mistakenly believed their actions were “off little consequence,” he said.
And while Magna Terra was a profit-making business, the corporation is now financially insolvent, the court heard. Charges that were laid against the corporation were withdrawn.
Franco Vigile, 30, has suffered from stress, anxiety and depression because of the criminal charges, the court heard.
Unlike other dispensary owners and managers in Ottawa, who remained in the shadows, Vigile was open about his business. He proudly showed off the shops and said he hoped to prove to the government that a dispensary could be run responsibly. His plan was to open a chain across Ontario.
A sister, Nina Vigile, 27, also worked at Magna Terra. The business’s corporate address was the family home on Hyde Way, where all three children lived with their parents.
Police raided both Magna Terra dispensaries and the family home in March 2017. After they found a loaded, illegal handgun in a safe in Nina Vigile’s bedroom, she was charged with weapons offences. Charges against Nina Vigile were stayed in November because of court delays.
Four other Magna Terra staffers were arrested during the raids. Two have pleaded guilty and received absolute discharges, while the other two also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Both Magna Terra shops closed after the raids.
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