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Cannabis B.C. RCMP raid two cannabis dispensaries in first apparent crackdown after legalization

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The Port Alberni Cannabis Club, is seen in this undated handout photo. RCMP raided two illicit marijuana dispensaries on Vancouver Island shortly after cannabis became legal on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Christine Jarvis/The Canadian Press

Mounties entered two illegal dispensaries on Vancouver Island and seized all cannabis products in plain view – but made no arrests – in swift raids that were Canada’s first apparent police crackdown against the illicit retail sector since recreational marijuana became legal this week.

RCMP officers in Port Alberni, B.C., went to the city’s six dispensaries without a warrant on legalization day on Wednesday, checking for compliance with the new provincial Cannabis Control and Licensing Act. The officers took cannabis products from the two stores that were open and selling these items without a provincial licence.

Trevor Bertrand, owner of the Port Alberni Cannabis Club, said officers seized about $6,000 worth of prerolled joints, edibles and cannabis concentrates on display. They also fined him $575 for the unlawful sale of cannabis.

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Mounties in Port Alberni, B.C., say both stores were open and operating without the required provincial licences.

Christine Jarvis/The Canadian Press

“They looked in my window, saw my case and came in without a warning saying they could seize what they see and that’s basically what they did,” he said.

About three hours later, officers raided the Leaf Compassion Cannabis Dispensary, where general manager Erik Vesaranta estimates they seized roughly the same amount of product and issued him the same violation ticket.

“Our headquarters in Victoria, they had a huge party on legalization day. It was like one of their busiest days," he said. "They were on the news, people were partying and playing music and having munchies. It looked like a good time, whereas us, we were sitting here stressing out and having anxiety. It didn’t seem like legalization day for me at all.”

The raids were frustrating for the two men, as both locations had been operating for at least two years with municipal business licences and both had paid the $7,500 fee to apply to the province for private retail licences.

“Nothing on the website said I had to close my store,” Mr. Bertrand said of the guidance B.C. has given private shops trying to transition to the legal sector. “I figured there’d be a transitional period.”

Earlier this week, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth told reporters that his government will move to shut down illegal storefronts once more outlets become licensed and Vancouver Chief Constable Adam Palmer, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, signalled that police across the country don’t intend to launch an immediate dragnet against unlicensed dispensaries.

Trevor Bertrand, owner of the Port Alberni Cannabis Club, said officers seized about $6,000 worth of prerolled joints, edibles and cannabis concentrates on display.

Christine Jarvis/The Canadian Press

Asked about Wednesday’s raids, Corporal Amelia Hayden with Port Alberni RCMP said Thursday that her detachment’s enforcement priorities are set in consultation with local governments, partners and citizens in the community.

Leaf Compassion reopened on Thursday, but Mr. Vesaranta said he was limited to selling hemp cannabidiol (CBD) capsules and acting as an information centre for long-time customers trying to make their regular purchases.

“I feel bad because we have senior citizens who come here for actual medication that they treat like a prescription," he said. "They come in here and want their CBD tinctures or pain creams, and I have to say, ‘Sorry, we got raided. You can’t get anything here.’ They don’t even know what to think. They had just transitioned into being comfortable to going to a dispensary, and now that [cannabis] is legal, we’re not open?”

Mr. Bertrand said he will wait for his provincial licence before selling more cannabis from the store.

“The RCMP of Port Alberni have fuelled the illegal market because there are no weed stores open in Port Alberni today, but I know a phone number where you can get something from the street,” he said. “I was talking to my street competition yesterday and he was laughing.”

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