In seeming defiance of the new government's intention to legalize marijuana, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have followed through on their threat to bust three medical marijuana dispensaries in British Columbia. And at least one is vowing to re-open.
"It is unfortunate that the RCMP decided the best way to deal with the coming change in cannabis laws was to detain front line clerks and attempt to prevent access of medical cannabis patients," reads a statement from Trees Dispensary, released Tuesday evening.
The Nanaimo medical marijuana store said that the raid on their storefront "[flies] in the face of public opinion, and the stance of our newly-elected federal government."
The dispensary says that while their staff is "distraught and disturbed" by the raid, it won't deter them from re-opening and providing medical marijuana to licensed users.
"We will be back to full operational status as soon as possible in order to continue serving the medical needs of our patients," reads the statement.
In a statement, Nanaimo RCMP confirmed they had executed search warrants at three storefronts.
The RCMP would not comment as to whether any arrests were made.
"We do not permit people to sell legal or illegal liquor or prescription medicine on a street corner and similarly, we cannot permit an illegal substance to be sold in a similar manner, particularly when people have complained about it," said Mark Fisher, Superintendent of the Nanaimo Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The RCMP statement cites an unnamed grandmother who alleged that her 15-year-old grandchild bought marijuana at one of the shops.
Under regulations drawn up by the previous Conservative government, medical marijuana can only be sold in dried format, and sent by mail. The Supreme Court of Canada, however, has taken aim at those regulations, and legalized possession of edibles and cannabis derivatives for those with a prescription.
With that ruling — which removed the criminal prohibitions for the dispensaries' clients — the only thing keeping dispensaries illegal is language in the regulations maintaining that the medicine can only be sold through the mail.
Those regulations were challenged in a Vancouver court after a 2011 raid against a dispensary in that city. The challenge was kiboshed, however, after charges against the store's owners were dropped.
The bust comes as the Trudeau government readies to legalize the drug outright over the coming years, according to the prime minister's own estimate. Details of that plan are expected as early as Friday, when the government lays out its agenda for the coming months.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for the RCMP, did not return a request for comment on the raids.
One of those shops that was raided on Tuesday morning is the Trees Dispensary, which had received warning letters from the RCMP, informing them that they faced prosecution.
"We want to comply with law enforcement. We want to be a part of this community. We want everybody to work together. We want this to be recognized this as a legitimate industry," General Manager of Trees, Travis Lane, told a Vancouver radio station in November.
This is not the first time the RCMP have raided medical marijuana dispensaries, but they have generally done so at the behest of either the city or the federal government.
When asked whether the city directed the crackdown, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay told CHEK News: "absolutely not." The mayor said he was looking to set up a meeting with the police force to try and remedy the situation.
The raid comes as cities throughout BC contemplate how to regulate and police medical dispensaries that have cropped up in increasing numbers in recent years.
Vancouver led the charge with policies on how the dispensaries can operate — adding steep new fees and rules aimed at preventing sale to minors — while cities like Victoria, the province's capital, are considering similar rules.
The previous government had warned cities not to try and regulate the shops, demanding that they order their police forces to shut them down, and wouldn't rule out having the RCMP conduct the operations.
The new Liberal government, however, has struck out in the opposite direction. They've pledged to legalize marijuana in the near future, and are even considering throwing out criminal convictions for drug offenders.
City police across the country have also raided storefronts, although cops in cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto have generally declined to do so.
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