Ottawa Threatens Vancouver Dispensaries with RCMP Shutdown

British Columbia dispensaries are on alert after an email from the federal government gives them two weeks before a potential RCMP shutdown, but local law enforcement say they have no plans to step in.

On September 9, dispensaries in the Vancouver and Victoria area reported receiving letters, via email, addressed from Health Canada warning them they were in violation of federal law and to immediately end all violations.

The letters are a suspected response to a Ministry of Health news release August 1 that Health Canada would be monitoring, “all forms of marijuana advertising and promotion, and will issue compliance letters in cases where violations are identified.”

The letter, which has been posted online, stated the named dispensaries are in violation of the Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Regulations, and gives the businesses until September 21 to comply, in writing, under threat of potential RCMP involvement.

Health Canada spokesperson Patrick Gaebel elaborated in an update to The Georgia Straight that the Office of Medical Cannabis, “sent 13 letters to organizations who were found to be illegally advertising the sale of marijuana. The letters require that all advertising activities with marijuana cease.”

Gaebel stated that if dispensaries do not comply, the department may refer the case to law enforcement agencies for appropriate action.

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) didn’t sound too concerned with the possibility of the RCMP enforcing federal regulations on the city’s cannabis dispensaries.

In a statement issued to the CBC, VPD Const. Brian Montague said, “Our position on the marijuana stores has not changed.”

Montague said despite the VPD and RCMP working closely to tackle many regional issues, his force has no plans to follow through on the Health Minister’s letter and doesn’t know if it will actually lead to an RCMP shutdown of dispensaries.

“The RCMP have the authority to enforce the Criminal Code anywhere in Canada,” said Montague. “But I doubt they have the desire to spend time, money, and reallocate resources to a city policed by the VPD.”

The Lower Mainland District RCMP has not yet provided any comments to the media. The VPD declined to comment as well on the prospect that the RCMP could conduct raids without the approval or cooperation of the VPD.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson responded to the letter, calling it, “curious.”

Jamie Shaw, with the B.C. Compassion Club in Vancouver, reported to the CBC that she received the email from Health Canada, but didn’t understand what advertising aspect of her business Health Canada had an issue with.

“The letter said something about advertising in the subject line, but then didn’t actually explain it at all, and actually started talking about Bill [C-17], and basically said that we had to stop and cease and desist all advertising of cannabis products, which is not something that we do,” said Shaw.

Bill C-17, the Food and Drugs Act, previously known as the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, received royal assent in November 2014 and was aimed to strengthen oversight of “therapeutic products” by the federal government.

This isn’t the first time the Harper Government has voiced disapproval toward dispensaries.
In April 2015, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney co-signed a letter sent to the City of Vancouver and the VPD expressing their disapproval of the medical dispensaries and Vancouver’s plan to create a regulatory framework around them.

The letter read: “Storefront sales of marijuana are illegal and under our government, will remain illegal. Like the vast majority of Canadians, the Government expects that police will enforce the laws of Canada as written.”

The letter was subsequently ignored, with the city instead issuing licenses – a process that is still ongoing.