Vancouver Police Recommend Anti-Cannabis Complaints Dismissed

The Vancouver Police Department has recommended that complaints from anti-cannabis activists accusing police of failing to enforce federal laws be dismissed.

In a 15-page report to the Vancouver Police Board, VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard explained why the police have not shut down or intervened in the operation of the city’s cannabis dispensaries, in response to a complaint from Pamela McColl of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada (SAM).

SAM calls itself a “bipartisan alliance of organizations and individuals dedicated to a health-first approach to marijuana policy.”

“Marijuana dispensaries are illegal,” LePard wrote in the report, available here. “However, the issue of enforcement against marijuana dispensaries is a complicated one because of intersecting legal, social and political factors.”

Part of McColl’s complaint stated that the VPD disregarded requests to investigate dispensaries operating in the city.

“The VPD does not ‘disregard’ any requests that it investigate crime” LePard wrote. “But it does not necessarily follow that there will be an investigation.”

The VPD public stance on the city’s roughly 100 cannabis dispensaries has been that enforcement of the businesses is not a top priority for resources that are better spent on violent drug traffickers or toxic drugs such as fentanylresponsible for over 50 deaths this year. 

“People think it’s not dangerous — it is dangerous,” said McColl.

In his report, LePard detailed that a 2014 operation resulting in four charges against two accused parties cost taxpayers $34,000 in pay and benefits.

“Stated another way, the investigation required the equivalent of one officer working full-time for approximately three months.”

McColl, who sits on the SAM advisory council, said the VPD are underestimating the risk that cannabis offers to youth in this country and that the VPD has a responsibility to uphold the federal drug laws.

“We have a criminal code,” McColl said. “It’s something that does affect the whole country.”

The report highlights that the VPD has executed 11 search warrants at dispensaries since 2013 that resulted in the department recommending 23 charges against 11 suspects to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. As of now, the Crown has approved 16 of these charges.

“I think they should do their job, as they’ve done in other jurisdictions,” said McColl, who referenced other cities in Canada where dispensaries were quickly shut down by authorities. “The dispensaries should go, we have enough examples of them pushing the envelope.”

This summer, the City of Vancouver approved a regulatory framework for dispensaries to operate within the city. LePard wrote that he expects those operations that don’t comply after the new rules are put in place will be shut down.

LePard’s argued that it is the city’s enforcement of bylaws, or lack thereof, and not criminal charges, that are most effective in closing dispensaries.

“The complainant and others are misinformed in their belief that VPD enforcement alone will effectively shut down marihuana dispensaries,” LePard wrote. “Several municipalities in the Lower Mainland that do not have dispensaries, or which have shut down dispensaries, have achieved this result through enforcement of municipal bylaws, not police actions alone.”

Recent surveys conducted by Insights West were pointed to by LePare for strong community support in Metro Vancouver (65 per cent) for the regulatory approach taken by the City and support for the VPD’s current approach to the issue.

LePard admitted that the current state of cannabis law and enforcement is confusing with medical and recreational use both involved in the proliferation of dispensaries.

“It is clear there is some genuine demand for marijuana for medical reasons, but it appears Health Canada-authorized suppliers have the capacity to meet the needs of those who have an authority to possess it for medical reasons,” LePare wrote. “The reality is that some dispensaries are both part of a movement to push for legalization of marijuana for any purpose and are supplying what is obviously a large recreational market.”

McColl said her organization isn’t looking to end cannabis use, it’s looking to educate about the risks associated with it.

“This is not about someone growing something in their backyard,” McColl said. “The reason I did what I’ve done is to fight the big guys, to fight this big industry. We think tobacco is just sitting on the sidelines, just waiting to take over and that terrifies us.”

The city is currently processing the 176 business license applications it received to operate dispensaries in Vancouver. Councillor Kerry Jang said he expects only about 15 to be approved. It’s not clear how enforcement will take place for current dispensaries that do not receive a licence.

McColl said even after the regulations are put in place, she doesn’t expect many of the dispensaries to shut down.

“I don’t see them as going forward with law and order,” she said. “[Dispensaries] think they have some privileged right. They don’t care about health, about school drop out rates.”

She said many dispensaries will call the city’s bluff.

“They’re thinking, ‘ They said they didn’t have the resources to shut us down before, how will they come up with the resources to shut us down now?'”