British Columbia

'Wrong time to have a dispensary crackdown': Vancouver to 'escalate' enforcement on illegal pot shops

Dozens of dispensaries remain open after B.C. Supreme Court ordered them to cease operations.

Dozens of dispensaries remain open after B.C. Supreme Court ordered them to cease operations

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that several dozen illegal dispensaries in Vancouver must close by Jan. 31. (CBC)

The City of Vancouver is moving forward to crack down on more than two dozen illegal pot shops that are still open for business despite a B.C. Supreme Court order to cease operations.

Last month, the B.C. Supreme Court ordered dozens of shops to close, after the city filed 53 injunction applications against the dispensaries. A handful of them decided to close by Jan. 31, 2019 instead of facing fines or even jail time.

But the bulk of the shops remain open. According to city officials, more than two dozen shops are still subject to the court ruling, and it will be moving to clamp down on the dispensaries.

"The locations are those that we will be escalating our enforcement against immediately," said Kathryn Holm, Vancouver's chief licence inspector. "We'll be proceeding with prosecution through the court system."

Hohm points out the city could move forward with court proceedings to obtain compliance with the court's order.

Shops appeal

Cannabis activist Dana Larsen is among the shop owners currently defying the court order.

Cannabis was legalized across Canada in October 2018, but only a few legal stores exist in B.C., with just two in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

He is seeking a stay on the injunction against his shop through the B.C. Court of Appeal, which has until Feb. 8 to make a ruling.

"We're hoping they're going to agree that continuing to serve medical patients is important and that they put a hold on any kind of shutdowns until these legal questions can be addressed in the higher courts," he said.

So far, just two dispensary operators — Evergreen and City Cannabis — have opened legally in Vancouver.

A rally outside city hall urged staff to reconsider bylaws that restrict where dispensaries can be located. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Rally at city hall

Larsen is organizing a rally at city hall on Friday, urging the city to allow the illegal shops to remain open while they transition into the legal system.

With very few legal shops open, he says the forced closure of dispensaries would make it difficult for medical patients to access cannabis.

"This is the wrong time to have a dispensary crackdown. We're in the middle of an opioid overdose crisis, and it's been shown that cannabis access helps reduce opiate use and reduce overdoses," he said.

City bylaws in Vancouver restrict where pot shops can be located. They must be several hundred metres away from schools, for example. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Dispensary owners are also pushing for the city to ease local bylaws restricting where shops can be located. Currently they must remain several hundred metres away from schools and other dispensaries.

"I will not close. I put patients first and as long as patients need me to provide them cannabis, I will do everything in my power to provide it for them," he added.

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