While illegal cannabis dispensaries “will not be shut down overnight,” there will be increasing enforcement across the province as more legal retail stores open their doors to the public in the near future, now that cannabis legalization is here.
According to public affairs officer Colin Hynes, that increased enforcement will come in the form of what’s known as the Community Safety Unit (CSU) and will initially employ 44 investigators across the province, although “staffing will be ongoing.”
Hynes noted that the CSU is a regulatory enforcement unit that will be staffed with investigators and operate out of regional offices across the province.
He told Daily Hive decisions about enforcement action by the CSU will be made by the Director appointed under the provincial Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, which Hynes noted establishes rules for the sale and supply of cannabis, as well as a minimum age, restrictions on possessions, places of use, and home cultivation.
It also establishes a number of provincial, non-criminal offences for contravening these rules, and provides authority to enforce the Act, including search and seizure authority with respect to illegal sales of cannabis.
When it comes to illegal sales, Hynes said the Act provides enforcement authority both to police and to the Director of the provincial Community Safety Unit.
That being said, “the CSU hopes to achieve voluntary compliance through education and outreach,” said Hynes. “Illegal sellers who do not come into compliance, either by obtaining a provincial retail licence, or by ceasing their operations, may be subject to enforcement action, which may include seizure of product, administrative monetary penalties, and or prosecution.”
Hynes said provincial offences can be prosecuted in court, “but in many cases, they are dealt with by violation ticket.”
This week, Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said that while the legal recreational use of cannabis will be new for Canadians… enforcing laws around impaired driving, and the illegal production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis will not be new to police.”
Palmer said that applying the new laws will require a “concerted approach” between various public safety and law enforcement agencies, and that there are provincial, federal, and municipal laws and regulations that may require action by different public agencies.
“It’s important that the public be aware that different infractions may involve different agencies and different response times, depending on the risk to public safety,” he said.
BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth also doled out some advice for illegal cannabis dispensaries this week, advising those businesses that are currently operating without a license in the province to close up shop – if they hope to eventually become legal.
“A number of stores have indicated that they want to become legal and many of them I know are taking steps to ensure that they have that ability by applying and by recognizing that it’s probably in their interest to shut down their [current] operations,” Farnworth said on Monday.