Pubdate: Thu, 03 Nov 2016
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell
Pages: A8-9


City has issued 854 tickets to pot shop operators

More than 50 illegal marijuana dispensaries continue to operate in
Vancouver despite the city issuing 854 tickets to owners who refuse to
close their doors, according to new statistics provided to the Courier
this week.

The city has also filed 27 injunctions in court in an effort to shut
down some of the 54 premises, which are operating without a business
licence. The tickets are worth $250 each and, in some cases, were
issued multiple times to a dispensary.

So far, operators have paid 205 tickets.

"We're not going to go backwards and go back to the Wild West," said
Andreea Toma, the city's chief licensing inspector, in acknowledging
the defiance of pot shop owners who continue to operate without a
business licence and refuse to pay tickets.

The city's new business licence regulations for dispensaries came into
effect last year. But the city gave existing pot shop operators until
April of this year to close their doors. That deadline only applied to
operators whose dispensaries didn't fall into a permitted zone or were
too close to a school or community centre.

So far, the city has issued eight business licences to pot shops and
is reviewing four applications. The city has issued 21 development
permits, which is one of the last stages to getting a licence, and 14
development permit applications are under review. A total of 34 stores
have complied with regulations and have closed, or are no longer
selling marijuana.

Toma said some of the operators notified about the city's plan to seek
injunctions have indicated they will fight the city in court, saying
it doesn't have the jurisdiction to impose such a licensing scheme on
what has been a federally regulated industry. That argument, along
with the federal government's promise to introduce legislation next
spring to legalize marijuana, has clouded the city's goal to
effectively regulate the dispensaries.

Toma said she believes the federal task force on marijuana
legalization and regulation will release its recommendations before
the end of the year on how the federal government should proceed. It's
not known how any new regulations could affect dispensaries.

"Once that comes out, we'll need to understand the implications, the
timing and what kind of requirements in terms of moving forward, and
have us try to get some alignment with the provincial and federal
bodies," she said, emphasizing the city's goal has always been to
regulate the business, not the marijuana.

For now, Toma said, the city continues with its program to have only
dispensaries with business licences allowed to stay open. To obtain a
licence, an operator must abide by a stringent set of rules, including
criminal record checks and a security plan for the store, and pay an
annual licence fee of $30,000 for a retail outlet and $1,000 for a
so-called compassion club.

David Malmo-Levine, president of the Stressed and Depressed
Association that operates a dispensary at 41st and Knight, is one of
the operators who received a development permit from the city.
Malmo-Levine said he applied to become a compassion club, which must
have a variety of services related to health care.

The longtime marijuana activist, who has gone to jail for marijuana
possession and once unsuccessfully argued a case at the Supreme Court
of Canada, has learned that even abiding by the city's new regulations
gives no guarantee that his illegal product will be safe.

Since Malmo-Levine opened in March 2015, he has been robbed three
times, the last heist occurring Oct. 16 when three men and a woman
made off with cash and marijuana. Police announced Oct. 25 that two
men from Alberta and one from Surrey had been arrested and charged in
connection with the robbery. A fourth suspect - a woman - is still at

Malmo-Levine said he was ecstatic that police made arrests but wants
his five pounds of marijuana and other marijuana products returned. He
said the product is worth about $15,000 and will help pay for a $3,000
security consultation he needs to do as part of the process to get a
business licence.

"[The VPD] are putting us at risk of not being able to get our licence
and not being able to afford the security measures we're obviously
going to need to put in place in order to make this place safe,"
Malmo- Levine said by telephone from his dispensary. "We're going to
do everything within our power to minimize the chances of us getting
robbed again, and we'd appreciate it if the police would give us our
stolen property back to us. There's no good reason why they can't do

Malmo-Levine claims police returned stolen marijuana to him after it
was taken in a May 2015 smash-and-grab involving a mini-van that
crashed through the front doors of his dispensary. Police continue to
investigate the August 2015 robbery.

When asked whether Malmo-Levine's marijuana was returned in the 
smash-and-grab robbery, Sgt. Brian Montague, a VPD media liaison 
officer, said in an email to the Courier: "I don't believe that is the 
case. Regarding this latest robbery, stolen and recovered personal 
property will be processed and returned to the owners, but Mr. 
Malmo-Levine will not be receiving any recovered marijuana products from 

Malmo-Levine has been fighting for legalization of marijuana for
decades but believes when and if it becomes a reality in Canada, that
marijuana will still be a product that is sought after in the black
market, much like the re-selling of cigarettes.

"Cannabis is still going to be valuable, it's still going to be easy
to re-sell," he said.

Police, meanwhile, say they have not executed any search warrants this
year on illegal pot shops. Montague said the police's approach to
investigating the shops remains the same as it has been for several
years. A VPD report to the Vancouver Police Board in 2012 said: "It is
the view of the VPD that police enforcement against marijuana
dispensaries in the first instance would generally be a
disproportionate use of police resources and the criminal law. The
issue requires a balanced enforcement strategy that considers a
continuum of responses from education to warnings, to bylaw
enforcement, to enforcement of the criminal law, when warranted."

At the time of the report, police said there were 29 dispensaries in
the city. Two years later, that number ballooned to 100 or more.
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