Pubdate: Fri, 04 Dec 2015
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Fumano
Page: 3


UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Mounties cracking down on illegal cannabis 
dispensaries with arrests, warnings

Business owners and observers are questioning the hazy future of the 
province's retail weed industry following a rash of recent pot shop busts.

Last week, Mission RCMP executed search warrants on a marijuana 
dispensary in the small unincorporated Fraser Valley community of 
Deroche, as well as the nearby home of the owners, Bob Woolsey, 64, 
and Dawn Parker Woolsey, 57. Both were arrested and released, pending charges.

Over the next seven days, Mounties raided three marijuana 
dispensaries on Vancouver Island, one on the Sunshine Coast and one 
in the Fraser Valley, while another five pot shops in the Okanagan 
were put on notice of "possible actions" to come.

Marijuana dispensaries are illegal in Canada, but the owners of the 
raided businesses, some of whom have been open more than a year, 
questioned why they were targeted now, less than a month after the 
swearing-in of Canada's new pro-legalization prime minister.

"I don't know what's going on, to be perfectly honest with you. I 
really smell something big here," said Woolsey, who opened the 
Deroche branch of the B.C. Pain Society in February, nestled between 
the general store and the gas station.

During the raid, he said, Mounties seized the couple's pot plants and 
products, phones, vehicles, computers and more.

In January, the Mission Record local newspaper ran a story on the 
shop's opening, reporting: "According to Mission RCMP Sgt. Rob Dixon, 
dispensaries are not legal, but compassion clubs traditionally have 
been tolerated."

The Record quoted Dixon as saying: "They would be expensive to 
investigate/prosecute and public interest is moderate."

Woolsey said he's not sure what changed between January and this 
week. Dixon was not available for comment this week, but Mission RCMP 
spokesman Sgt. Shaun Wright said: "I don't think anything changed ... 
There was no specific incident that changed our thinking."

On the nature of the complaints, Wright said: "It was reported to us 
that there was a marijuana dispensary selling marijuana, which is 
currently illegal in Canada, so we initiated an investigation."

Asked if the recent actions in four RCMP jurisdictions are part of a 
larger provincial plan, RCMP spokesman Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said: 
"Each detachment sets their own priorities based on local 
circumstances in their communities and public safety need."

But some observers, including those who applauded the RCMP's actions 
and others who criticized them, say this week's string of busts could 
be the first of more to come.

Woolsey, the dispensary owner, said: "I think they're going to close 
everybody in RCMP territory and I think Vernon's next."

Last week, Vernon RCMP visited five local pot shops, notifying them 
that "possible actions may be taken by the Vernon/North Okanagan RCMP 
in the future."

Jeff Gaudette, co-owner of Vernon's MMJ Total Health Care, said: 
"Everyone's really uneasy right now around here, all the other 
dispensary owners too ... We're all at DEFCON 5."

RCMP in Nanaimo executed warrants on three dispensaries Tuesday, and 
reportedly arrested employees.

Jamie Shaw, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis 
Dispensaries, said: "It seems like such a heavy-handed approach ... 
It's like using a sledgehammer as a fly swatter."

Shaw said she doesn't think crackdowns are likely to happen in cities 
like Vancouver and Victoria, which are policed by municipal 
departments instead of the RCMP, and have moved toward licensing dispensaries.

But Kash Heed, who previously served as Solicitor General of B.C., 
and before that, headed the VPD's drug squad, applauded the recent 
RCMP enforcement actions.

"You're going to see more of this, and I'm not opposed to it, simply 
because the black market has to be cleaned up before we even launch 
(legal) recreational use for adults here in Canada," said Heed, who 
now does consulting work for licensed marijuana producers.

Cannabis advocate Jodie Emery, who ran unsuccessfully for the Green 
Party in the 2009 provincial election against Liberal Heed, said: 
"With legalization on the horizon, it's very strange timing."

Back in Deroche, Woolsey said he will hold a rally outside the 
dispensary on Saturday, for supporters and patients, adding that 
despite the raid, he plans to reopen on Monday at 4:20 p.m.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom