Pubdate: Wed, 16 Aug 2017
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Dan Fumano
Page: A3


Marijuana dispensaries owe more than $1 million in unpaid tickets

The value of unpaid tickets issued to Vancouver's rogue pot shops is
high and only getting higher, recently passing the $1 million mark.

While Vancouver continues to crack down on scofflaw dispensaries, the
latest numbers show they're having limited success: as of this week,
64 dispensaries were operating without a licence compared to 31
working within the city's licensing system, while the city had issued
2,024 tickets to dispensaries with 406 tickets (or 20 per cent) paid.

And of the $1.2 million worth of tickets issued by the City of
Vancouver to unlicensed illegal dispensaries in the last 15 months,
the city had collected $160,000 as of last week, while $1.04 million
remained unpaid.

The City of Vancouver was not able to provide data for collection
rates on other kinds of city-issued bylaw infraction tickets for
comparison, but the city's 2017 Budget and Five-Year Financial Plan
reported that between 2012 and 2015, the city issued an average of
350,385 parking tickets per year, with an average of 86 per cent of
those tickets paid.

With Vancouver leading the way as the country's first municipal
pot-sales licensing regime, other municipalities are also moving to
regulate hundreds of pot storefronts sprouting up across the country
in recent years, though the stores remain illegal under federal law,
regardless of whether they have a municipal licence. Some cities have
been far less hospitable to dispensaries, including Toronto, where
police have shown Vancouver-based chains like Cannabis Culture and
Canna Clinic how unwelcome they are with large-scale raids.

Canada's federal government is working on a plan for the legalization
of non-medicinal pot, expected to be introduced next year.

Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, Vision Vancouver's point person on pot,
said this week: "The federal government proposals have clearly
followed our lead on this, as have other cities, because it was a very
practical, health-based approach."

Since Vancouver ordered unlicensed dispensaries to shut down in April
of last year, 42 have closed or stopped selling pot, but another 64
still flout the city's bylaws and operate outside its licensing system.

The city has filed 53 injunctions against dispensaries operating
without business licences or zoning approval, trying to force their
closure, said Vancouver's chief licence inspector Kathryn Holm this
week, adding: "We are waiting to have (injunction hearings) scheduled,
but unfortunately that's something we don't directly control. We are
able to file and then request access to the courts, and we are just
waiting to obtain that access."

But despite Vancouver's lack of success collecting fines and the
dozens of scofflaws still operating, Jang says the city's approach
will succeed eventually, and is being held back by "unusual" court

If a judge grants the injunctions, the dispensaries could be ordered
to shut down, Jang said, or risk a charge of contempt of court "at
their own peril."

None of the dispensary injunctions have been assigned a court date
yet, Jang said, despite some being filed more than a year ago.
Meanwhile, injunctions related to other matters have been heard more
quickly, Jang said, adding: "What's really unusual about this is it's
only been the pot dispensary ones that have been held up."

In an emailed statement, B.C.'s Ministry of the Attorney General said
the scheduling of civil matters, including injunction hearings, is the
responsibility of the Office of the Chief Judge of the Provincial
Court and the Chief Justices of the Superior Courts, and done
"independently of government."

Jang said he hopes B.C.'s new provincial government will make it a
priority to provide resources to allow Vancouver's injunction hearings
to be scheduled.

Jang said Vancouver's bylaw inspectors will continue to ticket rogue
dispensaries, adding that the piles of unpaid fines "just provide even
more evidence that they're breaking the bylaw . ... But we just have
to get in front of a judge."

Meanwhile, the federal government is aiming to legalize recreational
cannabis by July 2018, with retails sales expected to be regulated by
the provinces and territories in collaboration with municipalities.
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