Vancouver dispensaries that have been raided by police for allegedly selling cannabis to teens or being linked to gangs such as the Hells Angels have a slim chance of securing approval under the city’s new licensing regime, says a councillor who was one of the main architects of the new pot-shop rules.
Councillor Kerry Jang, who oversees the marijuana file for the governing Vision Vancouver party, said city staff will seek input from the Vancouver Police Department’s drug squad when reviewing applications under the new licensing system, which was approved in June.
And that means the owners of six shops that have reopened after being raided in recent years will likely have a hard time getting a licence, said Mr. Jang.
“If they were caught selling to minors previously? Well, you can imagine what the recommendation [from police] will be,” Mr. Jang said Tuesday.
The city is accepting applications until the end of this week for a special class of business licence that will charge dispensaries hefty fees and impose limits on who can operate them and where they can set up shop. While storefront pot sales remain illegal, the city said it had no choice but to attempt to regulate the explosion of dispensaries in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Police have executed 11 search warrants at the city’s pot dispensaries since 2012, the most recent last week at a shop operated by the Limelife Society chain in the east side of the city.
Court documents filed to secure the warrant allege police raided the Limelife dispensary after investigators determined it was being run by an alleged Hells Angel associate, as well as allegedly selling pot to minors. That was the first time law enforcement has drawn a direct link between organized crime groups, which ran B.C.’s illicit marijuana trade in decades past, and the dispensaries that now dot most commercial areas of the city.
The allegations have not been tested in court and the owner of the Limelife chain, Robert Clarke, did not return requests for comment Tuesday.
Last week, Mr. Clarke said he has absolutely no connection to gangs and he has never been charged with a crime.
Even though police said they were not investigating the other three Limelife locations for links to the Hells Angels, Geoff Meggs, a Vision councillor, said if one location in a chain has been raided over such allegations, then every store owned by the same person should be disqualified from getting a new business licence.
“If they’re all under similar business administration, then the accountability would be at the top and it would cast a shadow over all of the licences,” said Mr. Meggs, who has previously raised concerns about the potential role criminals may play in the dispensary sector.
City staff say one person can apply for a pot-shop licence to operate up to five separate locations of the same chain and another person can apply for more locations using that same name. Non-profit compassion clubs can be licensed to a sole person or non-profit society.
Don Briere, a recreational cannabis crusader who was jailed for running one of the province’s largest networks of illegal grow operations in the '90s, said he doesn't know whether two of his Weeds Glass and Gifts chain of pot shops would secure a new licence after being raided for allegedly selling to kids.
He said he is applying to for five business licences for Weeds locations and franchisee owners of four of his other shops will apply to be regulated under the new regime.
Mr. Briere says he is "on the same page and the same side as the police," noting he filed a complaint with police earlier this year after a Hells Angel allegedly threatened him not to open a new store in East Vancouver.
Mr. Jang said annual police record checks for all employees and a regimen of monthly and spot visits by building and bylaw inspectors will also help eliminate any criminal element from newly licensed dispensaries.
"This way you have way more eyes on these places than you ever had before,” Mr. Jang said. “These guys all slip up eventually."
None of the dispensaries are selling cannabis legally, which can only be done under the federal medical marijuana system. However, the police department has allowed them to openly hawk their products so long as they don’t let minors buy products and aren’t tied to gangsters.
Police have conducted 11 raids on nine dispensaries, often seizing all cannabis products and cash found on site, since the number of pot shops rocketed up from a handful three years ago to about 100 now. They say the raids, often to stop the sale of pot to kids, have resulted in the drug squad recommending 29 charges against 20 people.
However, only 10 of those involved with the shops in question have been formally charged and are now involved in court cases, according to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which handles federal drug offences.
City staff wouldn’t say how many applications have been filed for the new dispensary and compassion club licences.
With a report from The Canadian PressReport Typo/Error