A Vernon, BC dispensary owner ordered to close by RCMP thinks the recent wave of police busts on cannabis businesses in the province has less to do with ideology and more to do with budgets.
Jeff Gaudette, co-owner of MMJ Total Health, was one of several Vernon dispensaries given a verbal warning to close last week by RCMP.
“They wouldn’t give us a timeline, they wouldn’t even give us a note,” Gaudette said. “He said, ‘we’re not giving you a date when we’re coming in like Nanaimo, we’re just letting you know that it’s going to happen and owners, employees and patients will all be arrested.'”
With 500 active patients, Gaudette said he isn’t willing to shut down.
“We said ‘no disrespect, but we’re not going to close our doors, you’re going to have to close them for us,'” Gaudette said. “We’re not going to be the ones to tell our patients, ‘sorry, you’re going to have to go somewhere else.'”
Similar to other operations that have dealt with identical RCMP action, Gaudette said MMJ Total Health will reduce the amount of stock on hand each day to minimize seizure impact.
“Sometimes we run out of products, which is bad because we have patients that rely on us for their medicine,” Gaudette said.
Gaudette said up to this point, relations with authorities have been positive. The business has provided surveillance footage to RCMP to help solve community crimes like robberies, assaults and vandalism.
“We’ve been working with them hand-in-hand over the last year and now we get slapped in the face with this,” Gaudette said. “Any officers that have come in have generally been all smiles and letting us all know that they don’t really mind dispensaries, and, if anything, they would rather have liquor stores and night clubs shut down.”
Gaudette said he suspected this recent attitude toward dispensaries to be driven by budgets, which are currently being drafted for the next fiscal year.
“They’re looking to spend up their federal budget reserves so that they can get the exact same amount next year,” Gaudette said. “They’re looking to make sure that they’re going to be able to have the budget to maintain dispensary operations because that’s going to be the next big move.”
Gaudette expected that with the federal government’s move toward legalization, RCMP will lose funding for raiding and busting drug operations. Instead, the police will argue that they need to maintain current or higher funding levels to monitor the, now legal, dispensaries.
“They’re going to say they have to maintain [dispensaries], they are still a threat and they need to be watched and to do that they need money for more officers,” Gaudette said.
With Vernon now under pressure, and similar action taking place in other areas of B.C., Gaudette wondered who might be next.
“Right now B.C.’s getting hit hard the most…who know’s what’s going to happen?” Gaudette said. “It’s such a slap in the face to have things move forward and then have to deal with this.”
The RCMP have been silent to media and dispensary owners since the shut-down order was issued, with one exception.
“They won’t reply to anyone for comment, but they have come in and asked us for our camera footage since then to solve another crime in the community,” Gaudette recalled. “I kindly declined.”