Mark opened the first ¹Releaf artisan café in Clonmel, County Tipperary in 2018 and later opened a second premises in Dungarvan, County Waterford. They offer regular barista style coffees and also sell ²GreenWay CBD-infused coffees and Calm drinks, alongside a range of CBD and hemp products, including edibles. Here Mark speaks with Richard about recent raids at his cafés, as well as ongoing efforts to raise more awareness within the Irish justice system about current EU law surrounding the sale of CBD products.
Twitter: @releaf19 / Facebook: @releafire
When did you first become aware of the health properties of CBD? I’d been interested in it a long time. More cannabis as a whole, rather than just CBD. I went more into the business side in 2014. I started researching and looking at it as a business. I started a Business Management course in WIT (Waterford Institute of Technology). We were given an assignment to research a business and they told us to go outside the box. So I started looking at the different things that are coming on the market; CBD, the cannabis industry. That’s how I got into it. That’s what pushed me into this industry more than anything else.
When did you first think of opening Releaf café? From being in college, as I am also a Development Chef, so this industry was what I knew. 2018 was the year when I first opened in Clonmel, on January the seventh. The same day I opened the restaurant at the Department of Health HQ, where we also served hemp on a weekly basis, which got some very good conversations going with the staff of DOH.
How many times have your cafés been raided by the Gardaí? I’ve been raided five times in the shops; four times in the Clonmel store and once in Dungarvan. Now, I’m only open four months in Dungarvan, not even. And last week was their first time there. Like that, they’re in and out quick, they don’t really know what they’re looking for. They took hemp capsules and hemp oil on me the last time. The EHO (Environmental Health Officer) even wrote the labels with us. I asked why the Garda was taking them and she said: “Because it’s made of cannabis.” Are you not gonna take the bags? You know, a bit of raw cannabis?
So they’re not consistent in what products they’re raiding, they’re just taking different things. No, very random. They can’t even test the oil at this stage. They’re only testing the flower. If you send it up to the Phoenix Park forensics labs, they won’t test oil. One of the Guards told us it’ll ruin the machines. Were the four raids at the Clonmel premises spread out over much time? You might not see them for about four or five months. Then they’ll come in again. They’ll say they came in and caught someone with some ‘other stuff’ and that they got it from us. They’re kind of stuck themselves, it looks the same. I think they need clarification as much as we do. I can’t blame them, they’re doing their job. If the man at the top is telling them they have to do it, that’s why they’re doing it.
Would you say that most of the raids happened more recently, or were they always happening? The Guards don’t know about the newer EU law. At the last raid, we asked a Garda if he knew about the new ³EU law and he said: “What are ya on about?” And we handed it to him and he read it and said: “Oh, that’s an interesting one now. I must read up on that.” And that was it! But then the Guards in Clonmel were more (like): “It’s Irish law. We’re not dictated to by the EU, it’s Irish.” And they don’t really know either.
We kind of are though, the EU law supersedes Irish law. Yes, but it has to be implemented into Irish law. So unless they interpret it, Irish law says this. It’s just the Irish way, ⁴it’s written in the book. That’s the way it is.
Has your home also been raided? Yeah. We were at the cash-and-carry one day and our neighbour rang us: “The Guards are after ramming in your front door.” So we got my mother-in-law to come up (to the house) and just wait while we came back. And they were inside the house, raiding. Were they there for long, did it disturb much of your day? We were in Waterford city. And we live in Lismore. So it’s about 45, 50 minutes away. And they were still in there searching the house when we came back. So they were in there a good hour and a half, before we got the call.
Are you aware of many other small CBD businesses suffering from raids? Yeah, I’d be well aware of a few others. There’s a guy who got handed five Section 5s and five Section 15s (charges relating to offences listed under Sections 5 and 15 of the ⁵Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977) last week. Another (owner of a) store got collared with flower, coming back from his store. But they’re tryna make a big thing out of it. They sent Guards out to him from the city centre, and this is a country place. It was kind of like: “Ye’re big criminals, ye’re drug dealers.” We’re not! They had armed response brought to his house as well, to do a search. They’re going a bit too far now.
It seems like a concentrated campaign at the moment, with all the small businesses. Like that, none of us have been brought to court for a while. And now it’s like every one of us is going into court. We’re all getting these warrants or charges put in front of us. (Mark has since confirmed having received another two charges, on the fourth of March). Within the next four months, I’m up on each different raid. So each case is starting every month.
It must be affecting you quite a bit financially if they’re raiding a lot of stock. The way I see it, you didn’t go into this business not knowing this was going to happen. We all knew that it’s a grey area. It’s a tough one to take, but I classify it as a saving account. I have no plan on losing in court. Legal bills, they’re mounting up. But at the end of it all, will it be worth it? That’s the end game. Get it through. Get it in writing from the court. I’m going for it. My next day in court is the 23rd of March in Clonmel court. I should have forensics back. Then it’s up to the Irish courts to say: “Right, are we accepting that your forensics are true?” What way is the State going to respond to this? If they say no, I’m guilty, then it’s Europe (the Court of Justice of the European Union).
Have you been in contact with Little Collins or other businesses about the situation? I’ve been talking to Chris Allen (of the HFI) about it a few times, when I first got raided. She’d be very, very knowledgeable about the Irish hemp industry. And I was talking to her again lately. I’ve been talking with two shops up the country about the raids. Little Collins I’ve chatted to on social media, but that’s it.
The HFI (Hemp Federation of Ireland) recently released a statement addressing the State’s failure to amend Irish drug law to reflect EU law, which allows the sale of CBD products containing .2% THC or less. Have you heard anything about CBD businesses banding together to take action on this situation? To be honest, I find this industry very dependent on who you are. When I first started in this industry, it was very hard for me to get anything. I had more people sussing me out to see what I was doing than anybody wanting to sell me products. It was very hard to get products at the start. Everyone’s fighting their own battle. I think everyone should come together and fight it and then it’s game on. But until they do that, it’s like: “Lads, we’re all fighting the same battle. We all have the same goal.” We need to go that way.
Arguably, it could get more attention from the national media if a few of you were grouped together. But I understand that’s not a simple overnight thing, people keep to themselves. It’s their business. They don’t want other businesses knowing what their business is. Everyone is getting (stock) from a different supplier, dealing with different people. They don’t want people knowing. Do you see the Irish government taking any meaningful measures to legalise cannabis in the next few years? I would hope so. There is a lot of movement going on in the cannabis industry that people aren’t even aware of. In 2016, Ireland had a ⁶cannabis summit and they said we were the best cannabis country in Europe. That was over five years ago. Things must’ve been rolled (along) since then, there is stuff going on. See what way it goes after this whole lockdown of the economy… If they need money, they can tax the people. They need to bring in revenue, but it seems they have to see other countries doing it before they say: “Right, it is a good idea.” You know? Paddyland! Mark laughs
Thanks a million Mark. I appreciate you taking time out to chat with me. No worries. All the best with the upcoming cases! Thanking you. See you again, good luck.
¹ The official Releaf website can be accessed here: https://cbdreleaf.ie/
² More info on GreenWay CBD (a Waterford company) can be found here: http://www.greenwaycbd.ie/about/
³ EU CBD law is conveniently mapped and summarised here, by Visual Capitalist: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/european-cbd-landscape-in-2020/
⁴ This particular phrase refers to this old D’Unbelievables “Crimebusters” skit: https://youtu.be/Hw3P4SPEfGU?t=112
⁵ More on Sections 5 and 15 can be found on this information page for the
Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1977/act/12/enacted/en/print
⁶ Here’s Cannabis News Network’s report video on the Global Medical Cannabis Summit,held at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin: https://www.cannabisnewsnetwork.com/global-medical-cannabis-summit-dublin-2016-report-interviews/