— Pamela Roth
Tony Musfelt started shaking when he received a phone call from police last week, informing him that the medical marijuana dispensary he manages on Cook Street had been robbed.
“It took me half an hour to calm down before I could even go in,” said Musfelt. “My anxiety was through the roof.”
It was around 8:35 p.m. on Oct. 27 when police were called to the Ocean Grown Medical Dispensary in the 1700 block of Cook Street after two masked men brandishing firearms stormed the business. Nobody was injured, but the two employees working in the store were tied up by the thieves, who fled the scene once police arrived.
The business can’t talk about specific details about the crime, but said employees working that night were shaken by what they experienced. Measures are now being taken to increase security.
In the last three months, there have been three armed robberies at medical marijuana stores in Victoria. Police are investigating whether there is any connection. If the trend continues, police may look at cracking down on the illegal businesses operating throughout the city.
“The police will look at trends in the future and if the trends continue, then maybe we will go down the road with enforcement,” said Victoria police Const. Matt Rutherford. “The problem is it’s such a hot political issue.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries have been popping up throughout B.C., prompting communities to call for local authorities to regulate them.
Last month, Esquimalt council voted to deny all applications for business licenses pertaining to dispensaries in the township following an earlier inquiry from someone wanting to establish a business there.
Officials with the town canvased other municipalities in the region, noting most have taken the position that the activity is illegal, therefore business licences will not be issued and anyone commencing operations will be forced to shut down.
The only exception in the region is the City of Victoria, which currently has approximately 20 medical marijuana dispensaries. The city is now trying to set up a process to regulate the industry so it won’t be a free-for-all.
When it comes to policing, officers in Victoria have had ongoing conversations with dispensary operators, reminding them that there is always a risk the businesses could be enforced.
“If we went in and tried to shut these places down, is this going to result in criminal charges? That’s not clear. That can change any minute…It really is a complex issue where people are operating in a grey area,” said Victoria police spokesperson Bowen Osoko. “Our resources are only so big and we apply those resources based on the public interest.”
According to Dieter MacPherson, executive director of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, one of the major risks for medical marijuana dispensaries is that they are an all-cash business.
The city licencing dispensaries will go a long way towards allowing the businesses to access traditional services, such as banking, he added, and if the federal government follows through with legalizing marijuana it will reduce the market value over time, removing the temptation for thieves.
“This is not unique to the City of Victoria. Obviously we’re dealing with a high value product and an all-cash business so there will always be a concern that they are targeted,” said MacPherson. “Our hope is businesses will adopt best practices for security and the city in its licencing program will include security standards that should be applied across the industry.”
Last month, a man armed with a weapon entered the Weeds Social Club in the 1600 block of Douglas Street and made off with an undisclosed amount of cash and drugs. In late July, a man armed with a gun and knife stole cash and drugs from Farmacy, located at 3055 Scott St.
Anyone with information is asked to call 250-995-7654.