Whenever the city’s top cop looks at the priorities for the Victoria Police Department, he also assesses marijuana dispensaries on a regular basis.
He prefers to call them marijuana storefronts rather than dispensaries because that adds there might be a concept of a legal component, in his opinion.
But the nearly 40 marijuana dispensaries now operating in the City of Victoria are illegal, which is why the Victoria News recently asked acting police chief Del Manak during a year end interview why police don’t shut them down like they have in other communities across Canada.
“It’s just based on priorities. We have high risk offenders in our community, we have a number of other high priority targets like the $1.2 million fentanyl bust and the arrest we did of a prolific property offender with $100,000,” said Manak, noting there are currently only 36 licenced medical marijuana producers in the country.
“You have to have your cannabis purchased from a licensed producer to be legal…I don’t think that any of our marijuana store fronts here in the region are receiving their cannabis from a properly regulated facility from Health Canada.”
Marijuana dispensaries have been sprouting up in Victoria for a number of years, prompting city council to take matters into their own hands and pass a new bylaw in October that includes a variety of rules governing the location, allowable clientele, and the hours of operation.
The 38 known dispensaries in the city can now only operate if their premises are re-zoned for the purpose and obtain a specific business licence tied to a series of operational requirements to safeguard children and respect the surrounding community. So far, the city has had a significant number of shops apply for rezoning.
According to Manak, the city’s pot shops will become a police priority when officers receive information that organized crime is involved, if they’re dealing to youth or if it’s flaunted in their faces that clients don’t have to have a medical need in order to purchase the drug.
Police are also regularly in touch with the federal crown, making sure they are correctly interpreting the law and the support is there should they go after one of the storefronts. But so far, Manak said the shops seem to be keeping a low profile off police radar.
“We have other priorities right now, but that’s not to say our priorities couldn’t change if any one of those factors I mentioned were present,” said Manak.
Earlier this year, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced plans to introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 legalizing marijuana use in Canada, but it remains unclear when the drug will be taken off the prohibited list for the first time since 1923.
Last month, a marijuana task force submitted a report, outlining the framework for the legal system that included recommendations on how marijuana should be legally produced, sold, consumed and by whom. In the interim, the possession of marijuana for recreational use has not been decriminalized and the offence remains illegal.
Manak has a number of concerns about marijuana becoming legal, such as youth and organized crime still being involved, along with unlicensed producers. But one of his biggest concerns is drug impaired driving.
“We want to make sure that it’s properly regulated,” he said. “There’s a framework that needs to be put in place that’s well thought out and all levels of government need to be at the table in formulating and putting this framework in place.”