Possible jail time, fines await unlicensed Vancouver cannabis retailers, city says

In December, 2018, the B.C. Supreme Court ordered dozens of illegal cannabis stores to cease operations, after the city filed injunctions against 53 illegal shops. But many of them continue to operate.

'Our goal is always voluntary compliance with any bylaw enforcement'

Many of Vancouver's cannabis dispensaries are still open, despite a B.C. Supreme Court injuction ordering them to close. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The City of Vancouver warned Monday that time is running out on illegal marijuana operations within the municipality.

On Friday it announced the approval of  three cannabis stores operated by the Evergreen Cannabis Society and City Cannabis Co.

Now, the city is warning of legal consequences for dozens of others, operating without municipal approval.

In December, 2018, the B.C. Supreme Court ordered them to cease operations, after the city filed 53 injunctions against them.

Kathryn Holm, the chief licensing inspector with the City of Vancouver, said it's unclear how many of those shops are still open. 

Now, she says, if the unlicensed businesses don't comply with the injunctions and close up shop, they may face legal proceedings, fines or even jail time.

"Our conversation has been with the operators to ensure that they fully understand and agree to be compliant and are establishing timelines to close," Holm told CBC Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

Holm said some stores have told the city they do intend to shut down.

Owners of the shops that are complying say they're frustrated competitors operating without the proper licensing don't seem to be facing any enforcement.

"I know there's nothing we personally could do about it," said Mike Babins, owner of Evergreen Cannabis Society.

"You know it's like being a brother and sister, and the brother's following all the rules and sister gets away with everything and what could you do? Mommy's not looking."

'Not taking our foot off the gas' 

The City of Vancouver has been enforcing rules around licensed cannabis retailers for two years, but because businesses are not co-operating, they may have to take things to the next level. 

"Our goal is always voluntary compliance with any bylaw enforcement," Holm said.

"That obviously hasn't been the case here, so we escalate with the tools we have. That includes fines, legal orders to close injunctions, referrals to a prosecutor's office and ... access to the provincial court system to get a ruling."

Holm said bylaw services will continue to escalate with business owners until they comply with provincial and municipal regulations. 

"We certainly are not taking our foot off the gas. With respect to enforcement, we've continued to escalate and take the steps that we can."

As for when the illegal shops still operating in Vancouver will be forced to close, Holm said it's unclear.

With files from The Early Edition

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