Jail unlikely for unlicensed dispensaries, despite city warning

Jesse Day / January 8th, 2019

The city has said they will start forcing unlicensed dispensaries to shut down.
(Source / Wikimedia Commons)

The city of Vancouver has sent a warning to the handful of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries still open for business, saying that time is running out before they are forced to shutdown.

This comes after the city approved three new licensed dispensaries in Vancouver. There are now six licensed dispensaries in B.C.

Before legalization, there were 97 dispensaries in Vancouver’s downtown core. Vancouver Chief Licensing Inspector, Kathyrn Holm, says it’s unclear how many of those shops are still open, but they will soon be forced to close.

Google currently lists 20 unlicensed dispensaries open in Vancouver.

Holm says, if the unlicensed businesses don’t comply and close their doors, they may face legal proceedings, fines, or even jail time.

However, it appears unlikely that the owners and operators of these illegal cannabis dispensaries will actually spend any time behind bars, according to legal experts.

Before legalization, cannabis dispensaries in Vancouver were allowed by the city, even though they operated in a legal “grey area” and remained prohibited under federal law.

Criminal defense lawyer, Paul Doroshenko, says that the provincial government is in the process of creating a way to enforce the updated laws that prohibit unlicensed cannabis shops, but it could take quite some time before they are able to impose the new laws.

Doroshenko says the city will likely enforce the new laws on the dispensaries they once allowed to operate, but how they might go about it remains unclear.

“The city is in the perfect position to shut (unlicensed dispensaries) down. The people who are operating lawfully shouldn’t have to compete with the people who are operating unlawfully. So the city is going to respond, but how are they going to do it? Are they going to use bylaw enforcement, are they going to get injunctions and get the police to come down?” – Paul Doroshenko, Acumen Law Criminal Defense Lawyer

Owners of unlicensed dispensaries could be denied a license in the future if they don’t close soon.
(Source/ Flickr)

Doroshenko says that the province isn’t ready to enforce the laws against unlicensed dispensaries, and the city doesn’t seem enthusiastic about it but they will start enforcing the law eventually if unlicensed sellers refuse to shutdown.

Because of the way power is divided between the federal government, province, and city, Doroshenko says that even if the owners of unlicensed dispensaries are prosecuted they won’t face jail time.

Doroshenko says the likely outcome for unlicensed cannabis retailers who are prosecuted is that they will be hit with fines, and be banned from applying for a legal cannabis retail license. Doroshenko’s advice to owners of unlicensed dispensaries is to shutdown immediately and apply for a license.

“If I was in one of those stores right now, I would shut my store down. You don’t want to be the guy that gets busted and as a result you can’t get a license later on… You don’t want to be the guy that disqualifies himself from cashing in on the little cannabis gold rush.” –  Paul Doroshenko, Acumen Law Criminal Lawyer

with files from Darya Zargar / BCIT News

Some dispensaries that are being forced to shutdown are upset with the city’s tactics.