Skip to main content

Until now, most of Canada’s illegal marijuana dispensaries have been in Vancouver, where police have largely declined to intervene.Gosia Wozniacka/The Associated Press

The mayor of Nanaimo, B.C., says he has no power to stop local Mounties from raiding pot dispensaries even as municipal staff study whether to regulate the illegal storefronts and the federal Liberals prepare to legalize the drug. The local RCMP detachment in the Vancouver Island city executed search warrants on Tuesday morning at three pot shops.

The Mounties said they received complaints from citizens that the stores sold to minors, had people on the street waving advertisements and sold or gave cannabis to people without legal medical prescriptions.

Almost three weeks earlier, the Mounties issued cease-and-desist notices to 10 dispensaries, giving them seven days to close or face possible charges.

Mayor Bill McKay said he has no say over the RCMP. Nanaimo contracts out local policing to the Mounties, which means the city does not have a board to set enforcement priorities.

"I don't know what their reasons were that they chose the ones they did," Mr. McKay said in an interview.

He said the federal government must "get off their keister" and issue guidelines for municipalities such as his, which are facing a boom in illegal sales.

He expects city staff to report to council after Christmas with recommendations on whether to introduce a bylaw covering pot shops. Vancouver passed rules to licence and regulate marijuana dispensaries this past June. Port Alberni and Victoria are considering doing the same.

"The mainstream medical profession are sorely lacking in knowledge [about the federal medical marijuana system]," Mr. McKay said. "The folks running the dispensaries are sorely lacking in credentials and doing the best they can on a trial-and-error basis. In the meantime, municipalities, patients and the RCMP are caught in the middle."

Until now, most of Canada's illegal marijuana dispensaries have been in Vancouver, where police have largely declined to intervene. Experts predict dozens more could open across the country before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's pledge to legalize and regulate recreational sales becomes a reality, which could take two years or more.

The Liberals have yet to say what legalization will look like, but have pledged to create a provincial, territorial and federal task force to consult experts.

Mr. McKay said he would rather patients using medical marijuana buy from local licensed grower Tilray, which once was Nanaimo's sixth-largest employer but had to lay off more than a quarter of its workers earlier this year because profits were less than expected. Tilray is among two dozen licensed producers that can ship medical marijuana to Canadian patients with doctors' prescriptions.

He said part of the problem is that Tilray and other commercial producers are still waiting on the federal government to allow them to sell the cannabis oils that patients get from dispensaries.

"This drug is regulated federally and I just wish the wheels in Ottawa would turn a whole bunch faster," Mr. McKay said.

Matt O'Donnell, spokesman for the Phoenix Pain Management Society, which was raided, said most of Nanaimo's dispensaries kept a minimal amount of product on site since the RCMP warning earlier this month, and he expects his business to reopen once the police tape comes down.

"We are taking the opinion that we have 1,200 members just in our society that need medicinal cannabis and we will continue to supply that to our patients," Mr. O'Donnell said.

Alex Robb, spokesman for the Victoria-based Trees dispensary chain, which has a store in Nanaimo that was among those raided, said in a news release that the Mounties' actions are out of step with "both scientific and public opinion."

"We do not believe that any of our employees will be convicted of any crime," his statement read.

In Vancouver, police have executed 11 search warrants at the city's pot dispensaries since 2012 for allegedly selling cannabis to teens or being linked to gangs such as the Hells Angels.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe