Vancouver police issue warning ahead of changes to medicinal marijuana laws

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      Today (March 5) Vancouver’s top cop had tough words for licensed marijuana producers who might be thinking about continuing to grow their own pot after new regulations make it illegal to do so.

      “Vancouver is not a wide open city for the marijuana trade,” said police chief constable Jim Chu quoted in a media release. “We have received legal advice from prosecutors, and we will forward cases that meet the existing charge approval standard to prosecutors….Anyone who opens an illegal business, to sell an illegal product, is taking a risk that they could be charged criminally.”

      That rhetoric is however somewhat tempered by details about how the Vancouver Police Department will actually enforce new rules governing the cultivation, sale, and possession of medical marijuana scheduled to take effect at the beginning of next month.

      The VPD release states:

      The drug enforcement policy of the VPD has been on public record for several years. Based on available resources, the VPD Drug Unit targets as a priority:

      • violent street and mid-level drug traffickers
      • violent gang members who traffic drugs
      • drug traffickers who prey on vulnerable or marginalized persons
      • upper-level traffickers who are violent in their criminal activities
      • meth or other drug operations that pose a danger to the public
      • traffickers who sell cocaine, heroin and meth

      For the most part, medical marijuana dispensaries operating today in Vancouver do not meet these criteria.

      But they are currently illegal, and they will continue to be illegal after changes to the legislation on April 1 – there will be no change in their legal status.  

      Because they are illegal, they cannot be licensed and may be shut down where circumstances warrant such action. Operators and staff can be subject to criminal charges for possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and for trafficking of marijuana.

      The release was sent to media in response to questions raised about how marijuana laws will be enforced in Vancouver after new federal regulations take effect on April 1, 2014.

      On that date, Canada is scheduled to phase out old regulations in favour of the Conservatives’ Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR). Medicinal marijuana licence holders will only be allowed to purchase dried cannabis via mail order from a small number of large-scale producers. That will rescind more than 16,500 British Columbians’ licences to grow medicinal marijuana and call into question the future of storefront dispensaries.

      Police departments and B.C.’s health ministry have raised questions about how local authorities can be expected to apply the new rules and related complications given the limits of present enforcement capacity.

      “Police in B.C. are concerned that many of these operations will continue to grow marijuana after their MMAR [Marihuana for Medical Access Regulation] licenses expire,” states a September 18, 2013, briefing note prepared for B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton. “Exacerbating this issue is the fact that Health Canada, citing privacy concerns, does not intend to disclose the addresses of former licensed grow operations once they are no longer permitted to legally grow marijuana.”

      B.C. Health Ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs previously told the Straight that the province was in contact with Health Canada on the matter. He however declined to provide any specific information.