Nova Scotia

Crackdown on cannabis dispensaries after Oct. 17 will be a 'process,' say police

When recreational cannabis becomes legal on Oct. 17, don't expect a same-day crackdown on Halifax dispensaries.

'There is certainly some persistence on these criminals to continue the illegal operation'

Halifax Regional Police says there will be no same-day crackdown on marijuana dispensaries once recreation cannabis becomes legal. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

When recreational cannabis becomes legal on Oct. 17, don't expect a same-day crackdown on Halifax dispensaries.

Supt. Jim Perrin of the Halifax Regional Police said his department has a "myriad of demands" and history has shown just how persistent some dispensary operators can be.

"The challenge for us continues to be a reasonable use of resources," he said. 

"And to do a crackdown on every dispensary on Oct. 17... what about Oct. 18? What about Oct. 19? So I mean obviously we've seen it's a process."

Halifax police have investigated 15 illegal cannabis storefronts over the last two years. 

Temporary closures

There are about 24 dispensaries operating in the city, and Perrin doesn't expect them to go away quietly. He said on some occasions, dispensaries have reopened hours after being raided.

Jim Perrin is superintendent of the Halifax Regional Police. (Eric Wooliscroft/CBC)

"There is certainly some persistence on these criminals to continue the illegal operation. Part of that is these businesses are lucrative. The police can investigate, we can enforce the laws, but there's nothing in the legislation that we enforce that allow us to go in and evict somebody from a premise," said Perrin.

One major change under the provincial Cannabis Control Act on Oct. 17 will be the hefty fines. Dispensary owners could be forced to pay between $10,000 and $25,000 for each day they remain open. Under the new federal law, they could also face stiffer penalties of up to 14 years in jail. 

Police will be able to enforce both the federal and provincial laws that come into effect on Oct. 17.

People gather to use marijuana at the Higher Living dispensary in Dartmouth. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Under the radar

A CBC News investigation found that many Nova Scotia dispensaries plan to keep going until they're forced to shut down by police. 

Hank Merchant of HBB Medical Inc. says right now it's "day by day."

"I don't think anyone has a definitive plan," he said. "Everybody is just holding their breath and thinking, 'What's next?'"

Hank Merchant with HBB Medical Inc. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

Another dispensary told CBC they intend to stay under the radar for as long as they can.

Perrin said illegal dispensaries have been warned and should be prepared for the consequences.

"We've communicated with all of them, advising them that continued operation could bring them subject of criminal investigations," said Perrin. 

"That's our position and we'll continue to investigate the dispensaries and lay charges where charges are warranted."

Perrin expects the biggest strain on resources in the days following legalization will be "nuisance calls" on people smoking cannabis in public spaces. He said in those cases, he hopes police will not be the first phone call.

About the Author

Angela MacIvor is CBC Nova Scotia's investigative reporter. She has been with CBC since 2006 as a reporter and producer in all three Maritime provinces. All news tips welcome. Send an email to cbcnsinvestigates@cbc.ca