Canada: Illegal Vancouver cannabis dispensary operators risk jail time if they don't shut down

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Illegal cannabis dispensaries in Vancouver have been warned once more to shut down or risk some hefty fines and possibly even jail time.

The warning follows last month’s order from the Province of British Columbia for the dozens of illegal shops in Vancouver to cease operations. The City had previously filed 53 injunction applications against the illicit shops.

When the order was given in December, there was no timeline given for when shops had to be closed and owners were unsure of how the province would be enforcing the order, but the City’s warning on Monday suggested that time is running out for those who have yet to shut down.

Of the 53 injunctions that were given, it is unknown exactly how many are still open, according to the City’s chief licensing inspector Kathryn Holm, but those that are found to not be in compliance should know that they risk fines, jail time or both.

“Our conversation has been with the operators to ensure that they fully understand and agree to be compliant and are establishing timelines to close,” Holm told CBC.

The City has been trying to enforce illegal shops to comply for over two years, but many refuse to shut down and others have simply set up shop in a new location. It’s for these reasons that the province and the City have decided to take a more hardhanded approach to shutting down the shops.

“Our goal is always voluntary compliance with any bylaw enforcement,” said Holm. “That obviously hasn’t been the case here, so we escalate with the tools we have. That includes fines, legal orders to close injunctions, referrals to a prosecutor’s office and … access to the provincial court system to get a ruling.”

“We certainly are not taking our foot off the gas. With respect to enforcement, we’ve continued to escalate and take the steps that we can.”

While Vancouver puts its efforts into shutting down illegal shops in the city, the province has welcomed three new legal shops to Vancouver in the meantime, the first three to open since cannabis became legal across Canada in October.

Evergreen Cannabis Society in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood and City Cannabis Co. on Fraser Street opened their doors over the weekend. Owner of City Cannabis Co. Krystian Wetulani will open another location Wednesday on Robson Street.

“We are looking at a couple other spots and are close to throwing in a couple more applications with the province,” said Wetulani. “We’ve been really focused on the Vancouver licences and to be two of the first stores in Vancouver is a big honour. This is the Mecca of cannabis and the city has very cultured consumers.”

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