VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Police Board has voted to dismiss a complaint alleging the police department failed to enforce the law against illegal marijuana dispensaries.
Pamela McColl of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada accused the department of not doing its duty “to maintain law and order” by not shutting down all pot shops.
In calling for the complaint to be dismissed, deputy chief Doug LePard said in a report to the board that the VPD must prioritize more serious drug offences and dispensaries that pose a public safety risk.
He said enforcement is complicated by legal, social and political factors that include the city’s choice to create a regulatory framework rather than using its bylaws to shut down dispensaries.
“Using the criminal law to close marijuana dispensaries is generally ineffective, raises concerns about proportionality, and is a significant drain on valuable police resources that is difficult to justify in the absence of overt public safety concerns,” LePard said.
“Bylaw enforcement, however, is an effective tool to shut down a business that isn’t compliant with municipal bylaws, as has been demonstrated in those Metro Vancouver municipalities without marijuana dispensaries.”
The City of Vancouver recently became the first in Canada to regulate its more than 80 marijuana dispensaries, requiring owners to undergo criminal record checks and pay a $30,000 licence fee.
LePard said the force will take action against dispensaries if public safety is an issue, and has executed 11 search warrants and recommended multiple charges since 2013.
However, he noted these actions have been generally unsuccessful at closing the dispensaries. Some stores re-opened shortly after raids, and search warrants were executed three times at one location.
Selling marijuana over the counter is illegal in Canada and last week Health Canada sent cease-and-desist letters to 13 pot stores warning of RCMP raids if they don’t close.