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UPDATE: Langford pot shop fights to stay open
This article has been updated with more information from a previous version that appeared on the goldstreamgazette.com on Feb. 14, 2017.
Langford's first and only medical marijuana dispensary is fighting to stay open and that could mean a court date next month.
Green Tree Medical Dispensary, operating in a complex at 688 Granderson Rd. in Langford, reopened its doors last Friday without a business license. And that's something that's not sitting well with Langford Mayor Stew Young. "They are an illegal business … but they don't care," he said.
Troy DeSouza, a lawyer at Dominion GovLaw LLP, filed a civil injunction Tuesday on behalf of the city. He expected it to be served to Green Tree on Wednesday afternoon.
The business has 21 days to respond once they are served and if they contest, DeSouza expects the matter will end up in court in mid-March. "Like any legal process they're entitled to their day in court and so is the City of Langford," he said. But, he added, "they might agree with us, we're always hopeful."
While individuals can interpret the law differently, DeSouza was quick to note this process is not about the issue of legalizing marijuana. "What we're doing is applying the bylaws of the City of Langford to a business as they would be applied to any other business in Langford … This is the normal way for municipal governments to get compliance for their bylaws when fines aren't a deterrent," he said. "It's actually an order we're seeking to shut them down."
The shop was open for a little more than a day in January, before the West Shore RCMP conducted a compliance check on Jan. 17. Police seized an undisclosed quantity of marijuana from the store, citing possible offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. But as of Tuesday morning, no charges had been filed in connection with that investigation.
A Langford bylaw officer stopped by the shop Saturday to check if it was open and it was, which led to the City pursuing other enforcement measures. "If it does get shut down again, we will be reopening," Green Tree employee Harley Thompson said on Tuesday.
City of Langford bylaw officers were at the shop again Tuesday morning. While Thompson said he denied them entry, he did accept the fines for operating without a business license and noted the shop is prepared to pay the $200-a-day penalty. He expected bylaw officers to be back this Saturday to impose more fines. "We'll just have to pay that fine until they accept us.”
According to Young, that won't happen until the federal government legalizes marijuana. While that was a campaign promise of the Liberal Party in the fall of 2015, the sale and distribution of marijuana remains illegal in Canada.
Young said that's something residents need to understand.
The City of Victoria, policed by a municipal department, has turned a blind eye to the operation of dispensaries given the feds’ promise to legalize and regulate marijuana. While they consider it more of a grey area, jurisdictions policed by the RCMP continue to operate under the Criminal Code as it remains written. Young said the City of Langford is not prepared to look the other way.
"It really isn't that grey in Langford," he said. "It's an illegal business and municipalities shouldn't take it on themselves to regulate it."
He pointed to other municipalities in B.C. and Canada that charge these types of businesses more for a license – in some cases tens of thousands of dollars more. "You don't take money to make it right … to me it's like a bribe," he said of the practise. "I can't approve or condone something that's illegal."
But if the federal government follows through on their promise, Young said the City will do what it can to help legitimate businesses find appropriate spaces to operate within the new regulations.
Meanwhile, a red stop work order sign was taped to the front and back doors of Green Tree on Tuesday, but that wasn’t deterring employees or customers. While a few customers on the sidewalk were concerned to see bylaw officers outside the shop, Thompson said, business has progressively increased each day the shop has been open.
"They need somewhere close that's convenient … going back and forth to Sooke and Victoria is not fun," he said. "We'll see what happens; hopefully we can pave the path for Langford … This community needs somewhere like this." He added the shop has seen a wide range of customers, including elderly couples.
"More times than not, people tell me what they need it for," Thompson said, adding that without a doubt, most are using their purchases for medicinal purposes. "People need it physically and mentally for different reasons.”
While Young acknowledged that some people use marijuana medicinally, he said dispensaries need to operate within the regulations, using safeguards followed by legal outlets across the country.
The bureaucracy around becoming a legitimate medicinal supplier needs to be revamped, he said, with applications taking years to process and regulations preventing storefront distribution. Young added that people should be getting doctor-prescribed drugs from certified professionals such as pharmacists, who have the medical knowledge to answer patients' questions.
"It's a bit unfortunate they've chosen to continue to do what they're doing," he said of Green Tree. "Now the City will take the appropriate steps."