British Columbia

B.C. marijuana shops illegal say feds, as RCMP crackdown

RCMP continue to issue warnings and shut down shops selling medical marijuana across B.C,, and it appears the federal government has no plans to intervene, despite plans to legalize the drug.

Police warn Vernon shops to shut down, following recent raids in Nanaimo, Sechelt, Mission

RCMP say that despite a court ruling allowing patients to use medical marijuana, it is still illegal for unlicensed retailers to sell it. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

RCMP continue to issue warnings and shut down shops selling medical marijuana across B.C,, and it appears the federal government has no plans to intervene, despite plans to legalize the drug.

According to Jeff Gaudette, the co-owner of MMJ Total Health Care in downtown Vernon, last week officers issued verbal warnings to five shops selling medical marijuana.

Police made it clear the shops will be shut down if they continue to sell marijuana products, he said.

Gaudette said he's taking precautions by reducing the amount of stock in his store, but will continue to supply customers with medical cannabis.

"Our doors are open and our patients are going to be our voice. And if our doors get closed, I can assure you our patients will take to the streets and be heard."

Raids follow warnings

A spokesperson with the North Okanagan RCMP said the detachment is not giving interviews about the crackdown. But in a written statement, police say they expect the businesses to comply with Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The warning in Vernon appears to follow a pattern in other jurisdictions, with police following the letter of the law and issuing warnings before moving in with search warrants to seize products and make arrests.

Earlier this week, RCMP raided shops in Nanaimo, Sechelt and Mission. In all three cases, police said the raids followed complaints from the public about the shops.

But according to Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, at the RCMP E-division headquarters Surrey, the raids were all initiatives of the local detachments, and not part of a regional strategy.

"Each detachment sets their own priorities based on local circumstances in their communities and public safety need," said Vermeulen in an email to the CBC News.

Not legal yet, Ottawa says

In recent years, Canadian courts have upheld medical marijuana users' right to use the drug in dried and edible forms and to grow their own plants at home.

During the recent federal election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana, but would not commit to a timeline for legalization.

But until the current laws change, marijuana possession, production and trafficking remain illegal, officials at the federal Ministry of Public Safety confirm.

"As such, any store selling marijuana is operating illegally," said spokeswoman Zarah Malik 

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has been given a mandate to move forward with legalization, but the transition will take some time.

"It needs to be accomplished in an orderly manner," said Malik.

In the meantime, according to federal regulations, marijuana users with a doctor's prescription are restricted to purchasing the drug from 15 federally licensed commercial operations.

Many users have bypassed the licensed operations, however, and have been buying their marijuana from a growing number of commercial dispensaries. There are more than 100 in Vancouver alone, and the city has started to bring in regulations to try to control them.

Raids lead to arrests

On Tuesday Nanaimo RCMP raided three shops selling medical marijuana, seized cash and products and arrested 16 employees.

The RCMP issued a statement saying the raids were triggered by "complaints from the public about illegal marijuana storefronts, also referred to as marijuana dispensaries."

"For instance, we had a grandmother allege her 15-year-old grandchild had purchased marijuana from a storefront. Some of the storefronts were actively soliciting business by having sales people stand outside and/or waving signs to solicit customers, whether or not they had prescriptions," said a statement issued by Cpl. Jon Stuart.

"There is no legal mechanism in Canada which allows for medicinal marijuana dispensaries or compassion clubs to sell or gift to the public," said the statement.

Complaints from neighbours

In the case of the raid in Sechelt on Saturday, police said the business was operating out of a house in a quiet residential neighbourhood.

"Police received complaints from numerous neighbours relating to the increased traffic to and from the residence, and about the prominent advertising displayed in their yard," said a statement issued by Const. Harrison Mohr.

"Second, it was alleged the dispensary did not require buyers to have a medicinal marijuana licence or any medical documentation showing that they required cannabis for a medical purpose. Moreover they also offered internet ordering and delivery options, meaning anyone could go online and order marijuana-infused products to be delivered to their door."

Police also raided a residential property in the Deroche area of Mission on Nov. 25 following complaints from the public. Two people were arrested and police seized marijuana and derivatives including a concentrated product called "shatter."

The operators of the shop told the Mission Record newspaper that all of their 400 clients had medical prescriptions for the drug. Police said charges are pending.

With files from Franny Karlinsky, Kiran Dhillon and The Canadian Press


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