Pop-up pot market in Vancouver city square prompts charges
Growing flowers of cannabis intended for the medical marijuana market are shown at OrganiGram in Moncton, N.B., on April 14, 2016. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 23, 2018 3:12PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 23, 2018 11:43PM EST
Vancouver police say they are putting an end to an open-air marijuana market that sprung up and grew in a busy downtown plaza, fuelling concern among residents.
Police and city officials have said they received a growing number of complaints in recent weeks about people setting up booths to sell marijuana flowers and edibles, mostly in a pedestrian plaza between the Vancouver Art Gallery and the downtown law courts.
"In short, we've given ample warnings to those who are involved in this illegal activity," Deputy Chief Howard Chow told a news conference Tuesday. "Our message to drug traffickers is, if you continue in this activity to expect more charges and arrests."
Chow said charges have been recommended against three people stemming from a weekend raid in Robson Square.
A fourth person has been charged with one count of trafficking in a controlled substance and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Police say they plan to arrest and recommend charges against a fifth person.
None of the allegations made by police have been proven in court.
Asked why police didn't act until Sunday, Chow said officers have been working behind the scenes and consulting with Crown prosecutors to collect enough evidence to lay charges.
"It has to be done incrementally," Chow said. "The choice was to hurry into it or to do it correctly. We wanted to make sure that everything was covered off."
Vendors have said their actions are more about harm reduction and making medicinal marijuana affordable than about profit.
But Chow disputed that argument, saying there is no shortage of places to buy marijuana in Vancouver.
"Let's face it, these traffickers are ... walking out of there with thousands of dollars in their pockets," he added. "This is something that we have to put a stop to."
Sunday's raid resulted in officers confiscating more than $4,000 in cash, several weapons including a bat and a baton, about four kilograms of dried marijuana and about 10 kilograms of edibles, such as gummies, lollipops, baked goods and oils, Chow said.
The raid was prompted by allegations of violence, sales of hard drugs and selling to minors, he added.
Chow described the arrests as the culmination of about two months of police work, including undercover efforts, and follow earlier warnings and tickets to those selling pot. He said the investigation has been labour intensive, including two days that each involved more than 30 officers.
Recreational marijuana is expected to become legal across Canada by July 1. Chow said that won't change the legal issues facing pot sales on Robson Square.
"We aren't expecting on July 2 that it's open season to have tables where you can sell large quantities of marijuana," he said.