British Columbia

Illegal marijuana dispensaries not a priority for Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer

Vancouver's new police chief agrees with the federal government that the city's enormous growth in marijuana dispensaries are illegal, but he has no plans to crack down.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose called on police to enforce pot shops law after Vancouver bylaw passed

Vancouver police's Chief Const. Adam Palmer doesn't plan any immediate crackdown on marijuana dispensaries, saying: 'Violent crime has been coming down in Vancouver, and that's where our focus is.' (CBC)

The Vancouver Police Department's new Chief Const. Adam Palmer agrees with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose that the city's flourishing marijuana dispensaries are breaking the law — but he isn't planning a crackdown.

"They are illegal, so the minister is correct — there's no issue there," said Palmer.

Last week, after Vancouver city council passed a groundbreaking bylaw to regulate and license the city's roughly 100 pot dispensaries, Ambrose issued a strongly worded statement that she was "deeply disappointed."

"We expect the police to enforce the law," she wrote.

Vancouver Chief Const. Adam Palmer has said, in the past, that his officers will not crack down on the city's marijuana dispensaries. (CBC)

Palmer agrees that's his job, but told CBC's Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition that he has to consider all the crime in the city — from petty theft to serial sex offenders — and decide what to prioritize.

Marijuana dispensaries, in most cases, are low on the list.

"Violent crime has been coming down in Vancouver, and that's where our focus is," he said.

"I'm always going to focus on the things that have to do with violence, before the things that are non-violent. And right now we're not seeing a lot of violence related to marijuana, but we are seeing violence related to harder drugs" such as cocaine, heroin and fentanyl overdoses.

Search warrants executed on dispensaries

Police are aware that a portion of the marijuana sold at dispensaries comes from organized crime operations, and is sold for recreational, not medical use, said Palmer.

"Is it not cut-and-dried drug trafficking?" Quinn asked Palmer.

"Yes it is," said the chief.

Palmer said Vancouver police have executed nine search warrants on marijuana dispensaries, most recently in April, based on information about a shop trafficking marijuana to youth.

But in many cases, the shops reopen quickly after the police raid, so the new Vancouver regulations will help address problems, he said.

There will be more search warrants on marijuana dispensaries at some point, said Palmer, but "it is still not going to be the No. 1 priority for the Vancouver Police Department."

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Vancouver police chief on medical pot shops.