British Columbia

RCMP shut down 2nd Prince George pot shop as dispensaries eye northern expansion

RCMP in Prince George have shut down a second downtown pot shop, as marijuana dispensaries jostle for position in the largest city in northern B.C.

2 medical marijuana chains have opened — and been closed — in the city ahead of legalization

WeeMedical has operations throughout British Columbia. It opened in Prince George Feb. 3 and was shut down by RCMP Feb. 6. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

RCMP in Prince George have shut down a second downtown pot shop, as marijuana dispensaries jostle for position in the largest city in northern B.C.

RCMP accompanied city officials to inspect the stores. Neither shop had obtained a business licence and both had illegal drugs on the premises, according to police.

WeeMedical Wellness Centre announced its Prince George opening in a Facebook post, Feb. 3. It was raided by RCMP, Feb. 6. (WeeMedical Facebook)

Prince George RCMP Cpl. Craig Douglass said until new federal rules are in place, marijuana sales remain illegal in the city. 

"If they don't have permission to sell marijuana with a licence, then they're illegal," he said.

"It doesn't matter who they're selling to, that's trafficking in a controlled substance."

Canna Clinic opened in Prince George in late January and was shut down Feb.3

Canna Clinic was shut down by the city and RCMP, Feb. 3. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

The same day Canna Clinic closed, the B.C. chain WeeMedical opened a "Wellness Centre" a few blocks away.

The morning of Feb. 6, an employee who declined to be named told CBC a wellness center sells paraphernalia and connects medical users to mail order services but does not distribute drugs.

That afternoon, the shop was shut down.

Cash crop

The federal government has promised to introduce legislation this spring that would legalize recreational marijuana.

Jenna Valleriani, who has been studying marijuana sale and use for her PhD at the University of Toronto, said there is incentive for companies to set up shop before that happens.

A marijuana dispensary is closed after Toronto police raid pot shops in the city in 2016. (Rebecca Silverstone/CBC)

"I think a lot of these places are trying to get ahead of the recreational market, so kind of jumping the gun or putting their foot into a market that's just about to explode," she said.

Cities across the country have taken different approaches to dispensaries.

Vancouver and Victoria are regulating shops using zoning rules and business licences, while Toronto and Montreal have turned to police raids.

​Valleriani said regulation seems to be more effective.

"What we're seeing in Toronto is these places just kind of reopen," she said, adding it's tougher for local RCMP to act flexibly, since they're directed by federal law.

More than half a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries have opened up shop in Nelson, B.C., over the past year. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"They're not able to apply that discretion in the same way that maybe the Vancouver Police Department is able to," she said.

Legalize it

Even so, smaller communities in B.C. have followed Vancouver's lead. 

Penticton city council granted temporary permits to some dispensaries, after several shops opened in the south Okanagan city, and Nelson is considering following suit.

Ken Biron, who runs a Facebook group called the Cannabis Consumer Committee of Northern B.C., hopes Prince George will do the same.

"The time for waiting was yesterday," he said, adding he isn't convinced the federal government will follow through on its promise.

Cannabis cookies on display at Green Tree Medical Dispensary in Ottawa. Ken Biron says he wants to see more options in Prince George for consuming his medical marijuana. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Biron has a prescription for the drug to help treat his multiple sclerosis and currently obtains it through a licensed grower. 

However, he can only purchase it in high quantities of raw or concentrate form and would prefer the flexibility that comes with a local dispensary.

"I would really love to try the oil drops [and] I've heard lots about skin creams," he said.

"There's so much more to it than smoking."

Biron said whenever he visits Vancouver, he tells dispensaries they should open a branch in Prince George, which he expects would attract customers from across the north.

His message to future businesses looking at moving north: reach out to the local community and build support at the council table.

"Do it properly and don't get shut down," he said.

"We need it too much."

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