Police search Vancouver pot shop with alleged ties to organized crime

VANCOUVER – An owner of a Vancouver marijuana store that was raided by police says allegations his shop is connected to organized crime are “absolutely false.”

Robert Clarke said he was stunned after police executed a search warrant at his Limelife Society store in east Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon.

“I have nothing to do with organized crime. I’ve never even had a criminal charge in my life. I come from a normal family,” he said on Thursday.

“I don’t know where they’re getting their information. They never called me, they never informed me about this. They just sort of ran with it.”

Clarke, 32, said he’s the sole owner of four Limelife Society stores in Vancouver. He also owns a dispensary in Nanaimo, where he watched the raid unfold on a live security camera feed.

Officers seized about a pound of marijuana and arrested a 25-year-old male employee before releasing him without charges, said Clarke.

He said a female staff member was recently fired from the east Vancouver store after she was caught on camera selling pot to “one or two” youths.

“We have a no-tolerance rule for selling to minors,” he said. “I think it was an honest mistake. She forgot to card someone.”

Clarke said he’s in the middle of shutting down the location because of an outcry from the quiet residential community. He said he doesn’t know the building’s owners well.

Police also raided a suite upstairs that they said was connected to the pot shop but did not arrest any residents.

Sgt. Randy Fincham said the drug unit has watched the store for about a month following complaints it was connected to organized crime.

He wouldn’t identify the gang but said it was a “fairly substantial group.”

Fincham said officers quickly determined the outlet was selling to youth and people without valid medical marijuana licences. The investigation is ongoing.

He said police are not investigating the Limelife Society’s three other stores in Vancouver.

“We wouldn’t group (together) a particular name of a store and automatically target the other ones as well, unless we had evidence to suggest that was necessary.”

Vancouver recently became the first city in Canada to regulate illegal marijuana dispensaries, requiring operators to pay a $30,000 licensing fee and locate at least 300 metres away from community centres, schools, and each other.

There are more than 80 dispensaries operating in the city.

Fincham said the VPD remains focused on stopping violent drug traffickers and those who jeopardize the safety of young or vulnerable residents.

To date, he said 11 warrants have been served on marijuana stores across Vancouver and 20 people have been arrested with 29 charges recommended.

But he said police are strapped for resources when it comes to investigating pot shops. Since the spring, officers have been focused on stopping the importation and production of the dangerous opioid fentanyl.

“That appears to be the one that is the greatest public health concern right now,” he said. “It’s the biggest safety risk for our kids … So that’s the one we’re continuing to pursue.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.