Time again for a spot quiz.
The topic: marijuana.
Here we go…
Quick – guess how many incidents Vancouver police investigated last year involving the sale, importation or production of marijuana?
OK, I’ll stop being cheeky – it was 49, with 13 of those leading police to recommend charges. The stats are even lower for the number of search warrants police executed on marijuana dispensaries: a measly 11 since 2014.
So what do those stats tell you?
Pretty much what the cops have been saying for several years—that the enforcement of anything related to marijuana is not a top priority, particularly when the city and rest of province is mired in an opioid crisis.
Marijuana legalization is also coming this summer.
That position was reaffirmed in a recent report from police to the Vancouver Police Board. This time, police were responding to a complaint from a person concerned about the lack of enforcement on the sale of advent calendars containing cannabis.
Yes, advent calendars.
Which brings us back to Christmas. The complainant, whose name was redacted from Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner documents, filed a written complaint in December.
Here’s an excerpt:
“They are selling illegal marijuana advent calendars which are not licensed by Health Canada and they admit to using packaging to bypass detection by drug dogs/surveillance. These products are not in child-proof packaging, are not tested for molds, fungi or additives, are being promoted to the general population and they pose a risk to public safety and security.”
The complainant attached a number of links to what she wrote, showing the widespread media coverage of advent calendar sales. She suggested media outlets could be found “in breach of the Criminal Code for aiding and abetting criminal activity.”
The police board heard the complaint Feb. 15 and dismissed it after reviewing a report from Insp. Bill Spearn of the VPD’s organized crime section.
“The VPD explained to the complainant the VPD’s resources are currently deployed to concentrate enforcement on fentanyl production and trafficking, along with attention to the regional gang conflict, which are currently the greatest threats to public safety,” Spearn wrote.
Coincidentally, the board made the decision after hearing earlier in the meeting from two residents who had other concerns about marijuana.
Paul Beesla complained about the lack of enforcement against two marijuana dispensaries in South Vancouver. Michael Mracek complained about the 4/20 event being allowed to proceed at Sunset Beach for the last two years.
Beesla was not the first person to speak to the board about pot shops.
Back in September 2015, the board dismissed a similar complaint, saying what I already mentioned near the top of this story: police have other priorities. Back then, the board based its decision on a 15-page VPD report authored by then-deputy chief Doug LePard.
“The reality is that the multiple search warrants executed and charges recommended have generally not resulted in dispensaries shutting down,” said LePard, noting one pot shop was raided three times but reopened after each investigation.
LePard said that in mid-2013, when approximately 27 pot shops were operating in Vancouver, police and senior staff at city hall discussed using existing city bylaws, complemented by police enforcement, to stop the proliferation of dispensaries.
At the time, he said, the city decided not to enforce bylaws and instead began to develop a set of regulations to issue business licences, which city council approved in June 2015. Along the way, the number of pot shops increased to about 100.
When I checked with the city earlier this month, 73 illegal marijuana dispensaries continued to operate in Vancouver, which suggests the current business licence scheme is not working. What happens to dispensaries once legalization comes in is what the provincial government and city continue to explore, although enforcement is expected to be done by government inspectors.
As for Mracek’s complaint about the 4/20 event at Sunset Beach, which raised a number of concerns including the open selling of marijuana to young people, here’s what Police Chief Adam Palmer told me after the Feb. 15 meeting.
“Realistically, if you’ve got 50,000 people coming down [to the beach], you can tell them ‘you’re not coming,’ but we know they’re going to come anyways,” the chief said. “It’s not something where we’re going to draw a line in the sand and call out every police officer in the province to stand there in a big line saying, ‘you’re not coming into the park.’ So you’ve got be practical about it.”
So to sum up: legalization is coming, dispensaries without business licences continue to operate, the next 4/20 event at Sunset Beach is in the works and police have better things to do.