More than two years after jerky packaged by a Whitehorse butcher shop was found to contain THC, a Yukon court will decide if the owner of that shop should be convicted of illegally selling cannabis.
John Pauch owned Off the Hook Meatworks when the weed-laced jerky bearing the shop’s label, but no indication of its potentially intoxicating effects, went out to customers in late 2020. As a result he is facing a charge of distributing cannabis without a license under the Yukon’s cannabis regulation act.
Much was admitted at the outset of the four-day trial on March 27. An agreed statement of facts filed with the court confirmed that between Dec. 25 and 29, 2020, four people went to the emergency room at Whitehorse’s hospital displaying symptoms of cannabis intoxication despite not knowingly consuming any. Urine tests confirmed they had THC in their systems. They had all recently eaten jerky produced at Off the Hook.
Off the Hook jerky was sold at the butcher shop, at seven other businesses in Whitehorse and at one in Dawson.
An investigation yielded a total of 33 people in the Yukon, Alberta and Nova Scotia who experienced cannabis intoxication symptoms after eating the jerky. Seven children and two infants were counted among the 33.
The statement details the police and government Environmental Health Services branch response to the intoxicated members of the public. This including going to the meat shop on Dec. 30, 2020, seizing numerous bags of jerky, placing them in sealed boxes, and telling Pauch that they would return to pick them up. A health officer came back the following afternoon to pick up the boxes only to find the meat shop closed and no one around. The health officer emailed Pauch to arrange pickup of the boxes three days later but when he arrived they were gone.
The court heard testimony from Pauch, his son Joel and Terry Badcock, an employee who worked at Off the Hook making jerky at night. The agreed statement of facts note that John Pauch told the health officers investigating the cannabis contamination that he and the other two men who testified were the only three people who had access to the shop’s kitchen to make jerky.
On the stand, Joel described his at-home experimentation with making cannabis jerky and his hopes to one day produce and sell it legally and commercially. He described involvement of both his father and his father’s brother in planning for this.
He also told the court that Badcock produced at least one test batch of the laced jerky using the smoker and other equipment at the meat shop. Joel told the court that there was no plan to sell the cannabis-laced jerky and that it had been made only to test the process and the potency of the finished product.
The court heard differing accounts of John Pauch’s knowledge that cannabis-laced jerky was being produced at his shop. Joel testified that his father knew about it and was the one who instructed Badcock to make the cannabis jerky. John denied any knowledge or approval of any cannabis jerky being made at his shop.
Badcock told the court that Joel payed him $250 to make the test batch of jerky and provided him with instructions and a yellow liquid that he believes was the THC-bearing oil. Badcock said only he and Joel were present on the only night that he made the laced jerky and that Joel left after explaining the process to him. He said he never spoke with John or anyone else about making the test batch.
Upon hearing about the investigation into the cannabis jerky, Joel said he didn’t think that the test batch of jerky had actually been sold but thought it was “a cross contamination thing” with THC oil left on the smoker racks transferring to later batches of jerky. Asked to elaborate he said he thought it would be difficult to mix that jerky up with other batches that were intended for sale as it was left in one large piece, in one large bag rather than sliced and packaged for sale.
The elder Pauch also differed from his son on his involvement with the planning of the future cannabis edibles business. Joel had testified that John had been involved with decision making regarding the planned business, including the decision to have Badcock make the test batch of jerky. Joel characterized this as a group decision to see if the process would work at a larger scale. John minimized his involvement with the business plan as a whole.
Neither John nor Joel Pauch acknowledged knowing what became of the bags of jerky that had been seized and sealed by Environmental Health Services. John said he left Joel to mind the shop the day after the seizure and that Joel told him that people in a van had taken the boxes away. Joel denied knowing anything about what happened to the sealed boxes.
The crux of the case was whether John Pauch had done his due diligence in making sure no contaminated jerky was leaving his store bound for the hands of customers. As the facts surrounding the actual sale of the jerky to customers are not contested, this left it up to the defence to prove that Pauch took all reasonable steps to prevent the sale of the contaminated jerky.
The Crown’s argument, represented by Kelly McGill and Amy Porteous, was based heavily on Pauch’s record of non-compliance with environmental health inspections of the meat shop in an effort to demonstrate that he had no system in place to prevent cross contamination or other negative outcomes. His involvement with the plan for a legal edible cannabis business also featured majorly in their closing submission.
Pauch’s defence was led by Andre Roothman who argued that Joel Pauch gave unreliable and dishonest testimony in order to protect himself at his father’s expense. He minimized the importance of the Crown’s arguments regarding the inspections and argued his client had done due diligence to prevent a variety of forseeable problems at the meat shop but that contamination by cannabis fell outside of situations that could be reasonably prepared for.
Judge John Phelps reserved his decision and the parties agreed to return to court on April 13 to fix a date for the reading of the decision.
Pauch also faces two separate lawsuits filed late last year from people who claim they became intoxicated after eating the jerky from his shop.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org