The Victoria Cannabis Buyer’s Club (VCBC) was visited again today by British Columbia’s Community Safety Unit (CSU) that enforces BC’s retail cannabis regulations.
This was the second visit to the VCBC by the CSU in the last eight months. The previous raid was conducted last November, with agents seizing numerous products. The VCBC says they once again plan to re-open soon, and will be planning a protest at the constituency office of Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA and Finance Minister Carole James today along with a rally Thursday at the B.C. legislature.
BC’s Community Safety Unit has visited 276 unlicensed retailers over the past year “to educate and raise awareness about cannabis laws, the penalties and consequences for violating federal and provincial regulatory regimes.” This is up from 260 last February.
The CSU has followed-up with enforcement action against 43 unlicensed retailers that chose to continue to operate without a license after these initial education visits. The province says enforcement actions have involved the seizure of significant amounts of cannabis and records.
While many illicit dispensaries have already closed since legalization, either voluntarily, with some transitioning into the legal market, or at the behest of the CSU, many across the province continue to operate, with new locations still opening.
“We were very clear from the beginning that as more legal stores come online, as more legal stores are open, then enforcements by the CSU will be ramping up.”Mike Farnworth, BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General said in 2018
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is one of the oldest and longest continually-operating cannabis dispensaries/compassion clubs in all of Canada, started in 1996 by owner Ted Smith.
“You guys are stealing from sick people, I hope you feel good about yourselves,” shouted one person among a crowd gathered outside the dispensary as community safety and police officers walked out with bags of product.
BC currently lists 208 licensed cannabis retail locations across the province, 18 of them managed by the province as a BC Cannabis Store and 190 run by private retailers. Another 53 private retail licenses are currently awaiting their final approval and another 45 at the “approved in principle” stage.
“You guys are stealing from sick people, I hope you feel good about yourselves.”
Victoria has 10 legal cannabis retailers currently listed as open, with another four listed on BC’s site as “coming soon”.
New changes to BC’s Cannabis Control and Licensing Act have recently come into force that will allow the province’s Community Safety Unit (CSU) to target illicit retailers as well as landlords leasing or renting space to those retailers.
Earlier this year Victoria City Council had unanimously supported a call from the VCBC to seek an exemption from the province, following a raid by the provincial Community Safety Unit in November of last year. The BC Cannabis Secretariat later rejected this call for a temporary exemption.
The province has taken a slow approach to enforcing their own provincial rules around cannabis sales, initially saying they would not prioritize enforcement against illicit cannabis retailers in areas without legal stores. But as the number of legal stores increased, raids on those illicit retailers who stayed open began in the summer of 2019.
One retailer who stayed open despite repeated warnings even received a hefty $1.5 million dollar fine.
“I noticed one today, [October 18,] that was open a week ago and is now shut down,” Mike Farnworth, BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General said in 2018. “We were very clear from the beginning that as more legal stores come online, as more legal stores are open, then enforcements by the CSU will be ramping up. It’s only fair that those stores that have abided by the rules, that are paying their fair share of taxes, don’t have their competitive advantage undermined by stores that are operating illegally.”
H/T to CTV news