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Ottawa orders pot dispensaries to close, threatens to send in the Mounties

By admin | September 10, 2015

The Globe and Mail

Ottawa orders pot dispensaries to close, threatens to send in the Mounties

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Sep. 10, 2015

Health Canada has sent out cease-and-desist letters to at least a handful of illegal marijuana dispensaries and compassion clubs across the country, warning the RCMP could raid them if they don’t shut down immediately.

The threat is the first indication the federal government is prepared to directly intervene to shut down Canada’s storefront dispensaries, most of which operate in Vancouver and Victoria, where local governments have allowed them to proliferate and have either passed bylaws to regulate them or plan to. The letter also raises the possibility Ottawa could send the Mounties into those cities, where the local police forces have largely stood by while pot shops flourished.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose pledged at the beginning of August to create a task force to actively monitor and prevent such stores from selling or advertising pot.

A letter emailed Wednesday to Vancouver’s B.C. Compassion Club Society, Canada’s oldest medical pot dispensary, threatened that the RCMP would be called in “for enforcement action as they deem necessary” if the 18-year-old operation didn’t stop immediately and submit a written statement confirming this action by Sept. 21.

“The sale and advertising of marijuana is illegal,” the letter says. “You are encouraging Canadians to engage in conduct that could also expose them to criminal liability.”

Jamie Shaw, spokeswoman for the compassion club and president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, said at least three other stores in B.C. and elsewhere have received the letter, which she called puzzling, because her non-profit has long sold marijuana to its members and has never advertised. Her group has asked the government for more clarity.

“If they think we’re just going to close down in two weeks and cut off all our patients, they really don’t understand where we’re coming from,” Ms. Shaw said. “We’ve always been willing to risk arrest.”

These stores are illegal because they procure and sell their products outside the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled last year to allow industrial-scale production of pot products that are mailed directly to licensed patients.

After the city passed new regulations in June that will hand out business licences while imposing restrictions on dispensaries, Ms. Ambrose repeatedly asked Vancouver police to “enforce the law” and shut down the roughly 100 dispensaries operating within the city.

The letter suggests the federal government is working around these police forces by threatening to bring Mounties into these lenient jurisdictions, said Dieter McPherson, a Victoria-based cannabis advocate and adviser to the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.

“They have few avenues of recourse any more because people are on the side of dispensaries and the laxening of medical marijuana laws, in general,” Mr. McPherson said.

The Health Canada letter also says operators that refuse to shut down their dispensaries could face fines of up to $5-million or two years in prison, or both, under Bill C-17, which passed into law last November.

The law introduced increased fines and penalties for regulatory offences under the Food and Drugs Act.

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