Nova Scotia

Police cracking down on illegal Membertou cannabis outlets

Cape Breton Regional Police are cracking down on 15 illegal cannabis dispensaries located in Membertou. Police recently put a full-page notice out that said the NSLC is the only legal outlet to buy cannabis and asked private operators to close up shop.

Force says they are taking a soft approach, first asking the operators to voluntarily shut down

Cape Breton Regional Police say there are 15 illegal cannabis dispensaries in Membertou and one is right next to the police station. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Police are cracking down on 15 illegal cannabis dispensaries located in Membertou.

"That seems to be a high number for the community here," said Sgt. Barry Gordon. "Our concerns [are] they are located in residential neighbourhoods, where the products are coming from, who's taking the products in."

Police recently put a full-page notice in the Membertou newsletter saying the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is the only legal outlet to buy cannabis and asking private operators to close up shop.

Gordon said the collaborative approach to working with the community is starting to show results.

"After the letter went out, one of the dispensaries actually closed," he said.

Sgt. Barry Gordon says Cape Breton police have received complaints about the illegal outlets. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

However, the regional force's drug section is investigating, so Gordon said he couldn't get into details about the ones continuing to operate.

The high number of illegal outlets in Membertou are mainly in residential neighbourhoods and that has led to complaints about traffic safety and the possibility of sales to minors, Gordon said.

Using what police are calling a collaborative approach means leaving some of the dispensaries in operation, despite the fact they are illegal.

But Gordon said police are not turning a blind eye.

The reserve is federal land and police are factoring that into the investigation and dealing with federal Crown attorneys, he said.

In the meantime, police are increasing traffic and regular patrols and keeping an eye on things.

Police say many of the dispensaries have large signs out in public advertising their presence. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"We as a service are certainly doing everything proactive in order to ... make sure that the community is kept safe," Gordon said.

Mi'kmaw chiefs across Nova Scotia had been asking the province to work with them on regulation of cannabis sales, but police say the law is the law.

In December, RCMP raided five dispensaries in the Halifax area and arrested nine people and seized cannabis and cash.

Earlier this month, RCMP repeated the effort at three dispensaries in Millbrook, arresting five people and seizing more goods.

RCMP Cpl. Lisa Croteau said the Mounties received complaints about a number of dispensaries in Millbrook, but took action on three after the force's measured approach — asking the operations to close voluntarily — failed.

She said it's unclear if the others simply closed down.

Cannabis dispensaries in Membertou are not hiding their presence, but police say the public is complaining about traffic and the safety of youth in residential neighbourhoods. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"I can't speak if it was because they stopped, or just that these three in particular had potential for youths nearby and concerns that the sales were going to be done to the youths at that location," Croteau said.

"We just want to make sure everyone's safe and that the potential sale to the youth of the community is not being done," she said.

Both police forces say they are hoping for co-operation, but will eventually uphold the law.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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