Saint John police target property owners renting to cannabis dispensaries
At least one dispensary will stop selling after police warned of property seizure if cannabis sales continue
Saint John police are trying to clamp down on private cannabis dispensaries by targeting their landlords.
A letter shared with CBC News addressed to Giggles Gaming Cafe says the location at 102 Union St. is "an instrument of unlawful activity," because police believe the cafe is selling cannabis illegally.
The letter, sent on Nov. 14, says the cafe has two weeks to stop selling cannabis. If it doesn't, the Saint John Police Force will use the Civil Forfeiture Act to seize the property.
Lawyer John Barry says this is the first time he's seen this provincial civil law used in cannabis enforcement.
"It's very well thought out," Barry said.
The Civil Forfeiture Act was created in 2010. If the police suspect a property is being used for an illegal purpose, such as a brothel, unlicensed alcohol or gambling establishment, they can get consent from the attorney general to seize that property, close it down and sell it.
They can begin the process based on suspicion, and it's up to the property owners to prove that no illegal activity was taking place, or that they were completely unaware of it.
"Within the field of policing, they're leading the province," Barry said.
Multiple stores and property owners have received the letter, said police spokesperson Jim Hennessy, but he would not say exactly how many.
In the winter of 2017, police raided six medical dispensaries and charged 12 people, including owners and employees from King Canna. But multiple King Canna locations have continued to operate in the province since the raids.
Barry said this strategy could be more effective at curbing the cannabis grey market because it's making it more difficult for the stores to find places to rent.
"When you go in and seize a person's property and shut it down, then you're hitting their pocketbooks," he said.
"I would suspect that a number of landlords are giving termination notices."
Cannabis can only be legally purchased through the provincially owned Cannabis NB stores. The province has recently asked for proposals for a single private operator to take over operations and sales. But that has no impact on the law now.
Property owner reacts
Wayne Northrup leases space in his Rothesay Road building to the Green Room. He said he started renting to the business last year when it only sold cannabis accessories and didn't realize until later that it started selling cannabis.
He said he was still shocked when he received the letter from the police.
Northrup said the business owners told him the store is getting rid of all its cannabis stock by Nov. 27. They will only sell accessories for a month before they either move or shut down.
Northrup said he will abide by the law and will stop renting to the store if they keep selling cannabis, but he said the business has been providing a "service" to people in the community.
Customers "just weren't getting it at the government stores," he said.
Hennessy said the purpose of the letter is to "educate" both property owners and business owners that "there is and continues to be illegal activity taking place on the property."
He said the police will monitor the situation but he couldn't say exactly what will happen if the property and business owners don't comply.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," he said.