BC Supreme Court puts pause on province’s efforts to seize $12 million in properties connected to illegal cannabis, psilocybin dispensaries

| Staff

BC’s Director of Civil Forfeiture wants to seize a number of properties, a vehicle, and money they say are connected to a group illegally selling cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms.

However, the Supreme Court of British Columbia wants the government to wait for upcoming appeals before moving forward with civil forfeiture proceedings.

In a ruling posted in late November, the BC government alleged several individuals acquired ten properties for approximately $12 million, without mortgages, over a period of just over two years, arguing that these were purchased with the proceeds of illegal activity. 

The defendants sought to prevent the government from proceeding with the case, claiming they were seeking separate proceedings and raising Charter concerns that needed to be addressed prior to any further action by the Director of Civil Forfeiture.

The court disagreed with or dismissed some of the defendants’ concerns, but nonetheless said that the BC government will need to pause its efforts to push for civil forfeiture until it can be decided if the cases will be heard individually and any Charter concerns are addressed. 

In the meantime, the provincial government can request financial records from several financial service agencies and lending institutions relating to the defendants and their businesses, but those records will be stored until these other challenges are decided. 

“The order should be crafted in a way that ensures the information and records are obtained, but also ensures that the Director cannot make use of the information and documents until the bifurcation hearing has taken place and, if there is a bifurcation, until the alleged Charter breaches have been resolved,” wrote the judge.

“At that point, if the Director decides to pursue the civil forfeiture action, the information and documents should be produced in the action. If the bifurcation application(s) are not successful, the information and documents should be disclosed to the Director at that time.”

The defendants include the owners of MOTA Green Meds Ltd, Ocean Grown Medicinal Society, Animalitos Pet Wellness Corp, and several numbered companies. Ocean Grown, MOTA, and Animalitos were unlicensed cannabis dispensaries that had previously operated in BC.

Dianna Bridge, one of the owners of Ocean Grown, faced previous penalties from the BC government for operating a cannabis store without a licence, eventually accepting a monetary penalty of $12,000 in February 2021. According to court records, Bridge is also listed as a director of MOTA. 

Then, in July 2021, members of BC’s Community Safety Unit (CSU) attended a commercial building in Victoria, British Columbia, to conduct an inspection. It is alleged that CSU inspectors discovered psilocybin at the location, which caused them to pause their inspection and contact local police. 

Saanich Police raided the Shelbourne Street business and allegedly found packaged cannabis and records relating to the sale of cannabis products and packaging materials under the name of MOTA and Animalitos. The CSU claims it also seized a large quantity of cannabis from the property.

The BC government filed the notice of civil claim on October 6, 2022, seeking forfeiture of the ten properties, as well as a vehicle seized in a raid and the business’ proceeds. The crown contends the financial records will help it establish a connection to the $12 million in properties. 

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