British Columbia

1st court date set for illegal Vancouver pot dispensaries

The first hearing to see if the City of Vancouver will be granted injunctions against unlicensed marijuana dispensaries has been scheduled in B.C. Supreme Court.

The City of Vancouver has filed 53 injunctions against pot shops and issued more than 2,000 tickets

Three large jars full of marijuana buds sit on the counter at VanCity Weed, a Robson Street dispensary that has been issued a development permit. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

After more than a year and 53 injunctions filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the City of Vancouver finally has a hearing date set for one case against an unlicensed marijuana dispensary.

But the injunction filed against Karuna Health Foundation — which will serve as the court's 'test case' — still won't be heard for more than a year.

"It'll be almost two years but better late than never," said Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, who's been frustrated by the slow court process as the city tries to enforce its relatively new marijuana dispensary bylaws.

"Sooner would have been better."

"It's because we've heard nothing from the courts, the provincial government for so long that these bad pot shop owners figure they can get away with anything they want," said Jang.

The city reports that there are currently 64 shops operating without permits — 53 of them have injunctions filed against them. But unless the court grants the injunctions, the city has no power to shut them down.

Only 11 shops have been issued a business licence, but many more have development permits and aren't currently subject to enforcement.

More than $1 million in unpaid fines

The enforcement strategy has been to issue tickets, but many of them are going unpaid.

More than 2,000 tickets have been handed out, but of the $1.2 million in fines, only $160,000 has been collected by the city.

Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang is frustrated by the pace of the court process, as the City of Vancouver tried to enforce its marijuana dispensary bylaws. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Bylaw enforcement officers have been instructed not to continue to fine shops facing possible injunctions, but in the last week, another 20 tickets went out.

Bonnie Johnstone is one of the directors of the Karuna Health Foundation. One of their shops is among the successful dispensaries that has been granted a development permit from the city, but the other one on West Fourth Avenue is too close to a school, according to the city's bylaw.

"I don't really want to make a big war out of this, but we put everything that we had into it and it's just very upsetting that they would even consider shutting us down after all the work that we've done," said Johnstone.

"It's just really disheartening, because it's just one thing after another, code after code, permit after permit, then they changed the rules," she said, adding that her shop was one of the first to approach the city and get guidance before the current bylaw was passed.

Karuna went through the city's Board of Variance process but lost and has been repeatedly fined since then.

"It used to be $250, and then I believe it bumped up to $1,000. Yeah, so, we did pay some in good faith, and I don't know — it's just slowed down a bit," said Johnstone.

"We are in the process of paying them, because, again, I don't want a big fight with the city."

The injunction filed against Karuna will be the first to go before a judge, but with that date more than a year away, Johnstone is just hoping something shifts in her favour.

"I'm trying to positive, but it's very devastating," she said "Yes indeed."

Jang hopes that, with a scheduled injunction hearing, the city's dozens of illegal shops' days will soon be over.

"I think that now the courts have now indicated they are going to begin to hear the cases, that that will have an effect ... that people who are scofflaws will maybe begin taking the city bylaws a lot more seriously," he said.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker