Health Canada threatens B.C. marijuana dispensaries with police raids
Marijuana is weighed at a medical marijuana dispensary in Vancouver on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 11, 2015 1:49PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 11, 2015 5:43PM EDT
VANCOUVER -- Health Canada has threatened pot dispensaries with police raids, but at least one organization wants more information on what it has done wrong.
The health agency confirmed it has sent letters to 13 compassion clubs and dispensaries warning of possible RCMP raids if they don't stop selling or advertising marijuana and comply with several demands.
The B.C. Compassion Club Society provides legally approved medical marijuana to more than 9,000 members and spokeswoman Jamie Shaw said it doesn't advertise cannabis or cannabis products.
"It's confusing for us right now. We're trying to figure out what the problem is," she said.
John Conroy, the society's lawyer, has fired off a terse letter to Health Canada.
He said the agency has a legal duty under the charter to explain the allegations, especially the suggestion that the society is encouraging Canadians to take part in potentially criminal activity.
Health Canada has not identified the dispensaries or explained why they were singled out, but Shaw said she has heard from one organization in Victoria, B.C., and one in Whitewood, Sask., that have also received a letter.
Shaw said they are open to hearing Health Canada's concerns.
"If they are things that we can address or deal with, we will happily do so," she said.
"But in terms of actually closing and ceasing our operations, until Health Canada actually develops a system that takes care of our members, we're not going to simply abandon them."
This is an issue members of the society have been willing to go to jail over for the past 18 years, she added.
A spokeswoman for the RCMP declined to comment.
The federal government was once the sole producer of medical marijuana, but two years ago it began licensing private producers who must follow strict criteria.
The move led to a growth in the marijuana business across the country, prompting the establishment of dispensaries and compassion clubs.
Health Canada has repeatedly said that they are considered illegal.
Earlier this summer, Health Minister Rona Ambrose directed the agency to take a stiffer approach to marijuana advertising.
"The law is quite clear that dispensaries, whether they are online or a storefront, are illegal and they should not be allowed to advertise these illegal services," Ambrose said in an Aug. 1 statement.
Vancouver recently became the first Canadian city to regulate illegal marijuana dispensaries. The city has about 80 such operations.
Mayor Gregor Robertson said on Friday that he was surprised to hear about the Health Canada letters.
"The federal government has left us in this quagmire and we've responded locally with strong regulation in partnership with our police and health authority and it's surprising to see Health Canada weigh in now," he said.
The letters won't change how Vancouver police deal with dispensaries, said Const. Brian Montague.
"Our position regarding the marijuana stores in Vancouver has not changed," he said.
Vancouver police have said that they have more pressing priorities than cracking down on dispensaries, but would investigate if they learned the shops were selling to children.