Weeds Glass and Gifts, Vancouver’s largest chain of medical marijuana dispensaries, is poised to open a store in downtown Sechelt — even though Sunshine Coast RCMP is “strongly encouraging” the company to reconsider its decision.
“Ideally we’d like to save them all the hassle and money and tell them that this isn’t something we would stand by and allow to happen in our community,” detachment spokesman Const. Harrison Mohr said Tuesday.
“There’s no provision in Canadian law for a marijuana dispensary to operate, and we’ll certainly be taking enforcement action on this if they do open. It’s the RCMP’s stance that dispensaries are illegal.”
He added that employees may be charged with trafficking in a controlled substance, and there is no legal authority for people to buy marijuana from a dispensary.
“We are working with our community partners to ensure all laws are complied with regarding this matter,” he said. “We strongly encourage those wishing to open such a facility to reconsider their decision.”
Despite that warning, store manager Robin Kehler said the company still intends to open the store at 5536 Wharf Ave., with a “soft opening” planned before the end of the month. A mid-February opening was delayed to meet with District of Sechelt and health officials in an effort to obtain a business licence and “develop a working model that functions safely” in the commercial core.
“We are attempting to do this through channels … to see if we can get the cooperation of local communities,” Kehler said. “But first and foremost, we are a society, and we can and will operate. And if the matter has to go to the courts, then I guess it has to, and we’re hoping that the RCMP is going to see it’s a good thing that we’re doing. We’re really wanting to work with the police.”
Weeds founder and owner Don Briere concurred his company will go to court if the Sechelt store is busted.
“If we’ve got to go court, we go to court,” Briere said. “It’s not only the courts that are on our side, it’s the court of public opinion.”
Weeds has 11 outlets in Vancouver, where police allow the city’s estimated 61 dispensaries to operate in the open. The company is aggressively expanding outside the city, looking to set up shop in Kelowna, Sechelt, Whistler, North Vancouver, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Nanaimo and Victoria, Briere said.
He said Vancouver police have “an excellent relationship with us,” recognizing that dispensaries weaken organized crime, and he would like to see that trend continue in areas policed by RCMP.
Contacted Tuesday, Sechelt Mayor Bruce Milne said the municipality is “doing our research and due diligence to see what is happening in jurisdictions outside Vancouver and in other communities of similar size.”
At the same time, Milne said, no attempt will be made to interfere with the policing function.
“We’ll certainly support the RCMP. It’s their role to enforce the law,” Milne said.
Under the current Health Canada medical marijuana regulations, patients can only access cannabis by mail order from a federally licensed producer and only in the form of dried buds. However, a court challenge has allowed patients to continue growing their own plants under the old regulations. Neither system allows marijuana to be sold directly from a retail establishment.
The Sechelt store would sell cannabis products — dried buds, edibles, oils and infused juices — only to card-carrying society members who have a valid prescription, Kehler said.
“It’s not about recreational use, not about walking though the business district, lighting one up. It’s not about yahoos in cars, partying it down and smoking it up. Those people are not going to be part of the program.”
He said patients are not buying into the corporate, mail-order system, making it necessary to provide them with other ways to access their medicine.
“Given that this matter is before the courts, it would be unconstitutional for the RCMP to be involved in closing down any retail stores that are attempting to bridge the gap between producers and consumers,” he said, calling for the RCMP to “stand down on this matter.”
Another argument is that storefront dispensaries are operating in other areas of the province under RCMP jurisdiction.
“We’re well aware that there are stores that have opened up, for example, in Powell River, operating under the Society Act,” Kehler said. “We know of Kelowna, Kamloops, Maple Ridge, Port Moody, Coquitlam.”
The non-profit Powell River dispensary, Grassroots Botanical Wellness Co-operative, opened about six weeks ago and was continuing to operate without a clear “positive or negative opinion” from city council, a member told Coast Reporter.
In Port Moody, a company is trying to set up a dispensary, but Mayor Mike Clay was quoted Feb. 3 in Tri-Cities Now saying the city could not issue a business licence because the product is illegal.
In recent weeks, RCMP investigations have shut down storefront dispensaries in Kelowna and Grand Forks.