Cracking down on 29 illegal marijuana dispensaries in the city is not a top priority for the Vancouver Police Department because officers are focused on violent drug activity that poses a greater risk to public safety.
That’s the position of the VPD in response to a complaint to the Vancouver Police Board that alleged police are failing to enforce city bylaws and the law related to the operation of illegal drug dispensing shops.
The complainant’s name was not released by the department or the police board, which dismissed the complaint Tuesday after reviewing a report authored by Sgt. Jim Prasobsin.
“It is the view of the VPD that police enforcement against marijuana dispensaries in the first instance would generally be a disproportionate use of police resources and the criminal law,” the report said. “The issue requires a balanced enforcement strategy that considers a continuum of responses from education to warnings, to bylaw enforcement, to enforcement of the criminal law, when warranted.”
The report didn’t say how many dispensaries operate in Vancouver but Deputy Chief Adam Palmer noted at Tuesday’s board meeting the latest count was 29. None is licensed by Health Canada, endorsed by any medical body or associated to any legitimate health service provider.
The dispensaries openly sell marijuana, hashish, hash oil and products such as cookies, brownies and butter, which all contain marijuana. The storefront shops are not to be confused with Health Canada allowing certain people to legally possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Under Health Canada’s marijuana medical access program, there are no licences for storefront marijuana dispensaries and there never have been, Prasobsin said in his report. Operators often describe their stores as medicinal marijuana dispensaries, compassion clubs and other names that would suggest the storefronts are licensed medical outlets.
Many storefront operations also display a large green or red cross to suggest a connection with the medical community. The report said there are no regulations that require the dispensaries to report to the VPD or City of Vancouver.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who doubles as chairperson of the police board, said the City of Vancouver’s role in investigating illegal dispensaries is a “complaints-driven process and bylaw enforcement officers take it from there.”
He echoed the report’s conclusion that the VPD’s focus should be on disrupting violent drug activity, saying that’s where “the precious dollars” need to be spent. Drug dealers who sell cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine receive greater priority than enforcement of marijuana, the report said.
Robertson didn’t explain how an operator is able to open a storefront, although Police Chief Jim Chu suggested some obtain a licence to operate a café. The City of Vancouver did not respond to the Courier’s question asking whether the 29 dispensaries obtained some form of business licence to operate.
“This is a larger Health Canada issue and while federal laws are being amended, there continues to be a lack of clarity around the regulations,” said a statement from the City of Vancouver. “We continue to work closely with the Vancouver Police Department and look to them to identify any criminal issues that may arise.”
The mayor and his Vision Vancouver colleagues are on record of wanting marijuana regulated and taxed as a strategy to combat organized crime and improve public health and safety.
Chu, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, announced in August that handing out tickets for illegal possession of marijuana may be more efficient than laying criminal charges.
The VPD report said “criminal enforcement could be very damaging to employees of the dispensaries, who are generally young, entry-level employees who could face criminal charges and the possible impact that would have on other future employment or their ability to travel.”
On Wednesday, Washington State legislators adopted rules to allow the sale of recreational marijuana. Washington will tax and regulate the sale of pot in licensed stores around the state, including 21 in
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