A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled that despite oncoming legalization of cannabis, operating a dispensary is still illegal and he's granted the City of Abbotsford an injunction to shut down a controversial pot shop.
Justice Paul Walker ruled Monday that the Weeds Glass and Gifts store on Clearbrook Road violated a city bylaw by not securing a business licence.
The injunction bucks the trend of municipalities across B.C. increasingly regulating – not raiding – illegal pot shops, which are booming as legalization of the drug looms over the next year and beyond.
"The difficulty is that although there are considerations amongst Parliament now about legalized marijuana, it's not legal and there's no mechanism – if it is legalized – for the dispensing of marijuana," Justice Walker said.
"Aren't you premature?" he then asked Weeds' owner Don Briere, who was in the Vancouver courthouse. "Your arguments would be different if there was a mechanism in place and it was now lawful."
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said in a statement that he was pleased with the ruling, which asserted that every business in his city must comply with all applicable municipal bylaws, as well as federal and provincial laws.
The face-to-face sale of cannabis products is illegal because the stores procure and sell their products outside of Health Canada's licensed medical marijuana system. It was overhauled in 2014, and now allows about 20 industrial-scale growers to mail their products directly to patients with a doctor's prescription.
There is no official tally of dispensaries across Canada. Until now, about 150 – estimated to be the vast majority – have operated in Vancouver and Victoria.
Mr. Briere, a marijuana magnate with about 20 franchise partners across the province, said outside the courthouse that he will appeal the injunction – which gave him three days to close up shop – and keep his Abbotsford store open as long as he can.
"Unlike the City of Vancouver, Abbotsford has chosen to go adversarial," he said. "Our argument is that cannabis is legal because the laws enforcing it are illegal.
"We're just going to keep fighting it because we're in the right, they're in the wrong – there's no ifs, ands or buts about it."
Justice Walker ruled that Mr. Briere must pay Abbotsford's legal fees, which a lawyer for the city estimated totalled $4,000 plus the cost of dispersing documents.
Mr. Briere, once sent to prison for running B.C.'s biggest network of illegal grow operations, admitted that two other Weeds locations not included in Monday's injunction are already operating in the city. He added that he plans to keep expanding his empire of pot-shop franchises into the neighbouring communities of Surrey, Langley and Aldergrove.
"We're not stopping, we're not even slowing down. We're going to speed up."
Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer for numerous dispensaries who is also representing small-scale medical marijuana producers fighting the federal government to keep growing at home, said cannabis activists should be buoyed by the fact that traditionally conservative jurisdictions such as Abbotsford – sometimes referred to as part of B.C.'s Bible Belt of communities – appear to be turning away from criminal law to tackle the issue.
"Pursuing a civil injunction is a tool available to the city, [but] so is sending in the police to arrest everyone and haul them off to jail," Mr. Tousaw said. "Not that very long ago, that would have been Plan A.
"There's always going to be resistance to change. The public, though, has been way, way ahead of politicians and lawmakers on getting rid of prohibition.