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Court finds Yukon man guilty following 2020 recall of cannabis-infused jerky that led to several hospitalizations

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Two and a half years after Yukon issued a recall of jerky due to possible contamination with THC, one man has been found guilty of a single violation of Yukon’s cannabis regulations.

The recall, issued in December 2020, came after several people checked into a local hospital displaying symptoms consistent with cannabis intoxication, despite them all saying they had not consumed cannabis. 

The Whitehorse RCMP and Emergency Health Services (EHS) launched an investigation into these reports, finding that the cause of the cannabis intoxication was the consumption of beef jerky from a local company called Off the Hook.

Off the Hook was owned by John Francis Pauch, who was found responsible for the presence of cannabis in the jerky products purchased by dozens of people in at least three provinces. In total, an investigation found thirty-three people, including seven children and two infants, in Yukon, Alberta, and Nova Scotia who reported experiencing symptoms of cannabis intoxication after consuming beef jerky from Off the Hook. Nine people, including one child, visited a hospital emergency department.

The court heard that the investigation led EHS officers to seize 671 bags of jerky from Off the Hook in Whitehorse on December 30, 2020. However, EHS agents left the products in boxes at the business to be picked up the next day. Subsequently, the boxes went missing, and EHS was unable to recover them for testing. 

RCMP subsequently seized approximately three hundred unopened bags of Off the Hook beef jerky from seven businesses in Whitehorse. Law enforcement took a random sample of jerky from six stores carrying the products, and all six tested positive for cannabis. 

RCMP also seized another twenty-two bags of jerky from individuals and sent twenty for testing. Fourteen of these samples also contained cannabis. 

The court heard that John Pauch, his brother ​​Rick Pauch, and adult son Joel Pauch, had plans to begin making cannabis-infused jerky under a federal processing licence.

Joel had been experimenting with recipes for cannabis-infused jerky at home and discussed the idea with his father and uncle. A decision was made to prepare a commercial scale, 25 pound test batch of cannabis jerky at Off the Hook. An employee was tasked with making the batch in early December. 

What happened to the boxes of jerky seized by EHC but left on site was undetermined. The judge found the testimony of John Pauch to be “problematic” regarding his explanation of how the infused cannabis made it onto shelves and what happened to the seized products. 

In part, this lack of credibility led the judge in the case to find John Pauch guilty of a single count before the Court for the offence contrary to s. 66(1)(a) of the Cannabis Control and Regulation Act.

No sentencing information was yet available as of press time. Yukon’s cannabis regulations call for a fine of not more than $100,000.00 for a first-time offence for such a violation. 

The Yukon News reports that he also faces two separate lawsuits filed late last year from people who say they became intoxicated after eating the jerky from his shop.

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