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Chilliwack's medical marijuana dispensary hit with daily fines

The opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in Chilliwack last week has sparked discussion over what
The opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in Chilliwack last week has sparked discussion over what's legal, what's being tolerated, and for how long.
— image credit: PROGRESS FILE

A Chilliwack medical marijuana dispensary will continue to be given daily fines as long as they are operating, said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.

WeeMedical Marijuana Dispensary Society has received notice of a daily fine of $1000 for operating without a business license. The business's two landlords are each receiving $500 daily fines, for a total of $2000 per day.

"I can't speculate on why they're remaining open," Gaetz said. "They're obviously not in compliance with the laws of Canada."

She said the city has sent letters to the business explaining the fines and underlining that they are not operating legally, and have ordered them to close their doors, on Fifth Avenue at Young Road.

But on Tuesday, WeeMedical was still busy with customers and circulating a petition for support. It seems unlikely that petition will be considered, as Gaetz noted it is not in any municipality's jurisdiction to make deals with businesses operating illegally.

"We cannot work together with an illegal company," she said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries, including several WeeMedical Marijuana Dispensaries, have been popping up in communities as the government prepares to change its marijuana laws.

"There may come a time when the federal government will legalize marijuana," Gaetz said. "And at that point there will be probably some fairly stringent regulations to go along with that, just as there is with alcohol."

There are 28,000 growers in Canada who are allowed to continue producing marijuana while the federal government works on its plan to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana for medical purposes. Gaetz expects the changes to be as slow and laborious for growers as it has been for businesses eager to begin selling liquor under new provincial laws.

Jane Philpott, Canada's minister of health, announced last week that the federal government would not appeal a decision by the Federal Court that would allow those 28,000 growers to continue growing medicinal marijuana. The federal government is working on amending the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations by Aug. 24, 2106.

"In the meantime, I would like to remind authorized medical marijuana users that the MMPR remain in full effect," a news release from Philpott stated. "Unless one is covered by a Court injunction, Licensed Producers are the only legal way to obtain marijuana for medical purposes."

Philpott added that a task force is being established to consult with public health, substance abuse and law enforcement experts. Purchasing medical marijuana is possible through doctor's referrals — which are notoriously hard to acquire in Chilliwack — and a distribution system through the government.

And while marijuana can be grown on agricultural land, it cannot be sold from it.

"It's an evolving issue," said Gaetz.

Just as the laws regarding the sales of alcohol are evolving slowly, she expects it could take a long time for businesses to be approved for the sale of medical marijuana. In the meantime, she said, it's the city's job to ensure businesses are operating lawfully.

"Our job is not to legalize or not legalize marijuana," she said. "Our job is merely to enforce the laws that other levels of government create, and to make bylaws that coincide with what the federal and provincial government have decided."

They also cannot direct courses of action to the RCMP, although the city does apprise the local detachment of issues as they pop up.

Chilliwack RCMP would not comment directly on whether they are concerned with WeeMedical's operations, but did respond to questions from The Progress with a brief statement.

"Businesses and/or individuals operating in contravention of the Controlled Drug and Substance Act (CDSA) and Health Canada Regulations may be subject to investigation and criminal charges in accordance to Canadian Laws," said Cpl. Mike Rail.

MP Mark Strahl believes the confusion surrounding regulation and legalization have opened an opportunistic door for dispensaries.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was working toward regulating marijuana production and distribution in a way that clearly distinguish legal and illegal operations, he said.

“We were supposed to, a couple years ago, have changed the way medical marijuana was produced,” Strahl said. The court action to grandfather in all home-based medical marijuana growers was “the biggest disappointment. We wanted to get it away from kids, away from families, and from neighbourhoods.”

He said the new Liberal government has implied that it will be a “free for all once again for growing marijuana,” despite talk of regulating access.

And he said the lack of action from the RCMP to close down dispensaries has emboldened more businesses to open.

“I think dispensaries have seen the reaction of police forces in bigger cities, where in some cases there are more dispensaries than Starbucks. Essentially that message has been sent that, while this is frowned upon, we aren’t actually going to shut these things down.”

Gaetz said the city has no plans to back down from its course of action.

“We will continue to fine them every single day,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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