Although many cities in Canada were able to celebrate the legalization of cannabis this week, Port Alberni was not one of them. Two unlicensed dispensaries in Port Alberni were raided on Wednesday.
Port Alberni RCMP confirmed that they attended Port Alberni Cannabis Club on Bute Street and Leaf Compassion at the bottom of Johnston Road and seized an “undisclosed amount of cannabis and cannabis products.” Owners were also ticketed $575 each for unlawful sale of cannabis. Both stores were open and operating without the new BC provincial license required under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act.
“It was probably the worst legalization day for us,” said Eric Vesaranta, general manager of Leaf Compassion.
Leaf Compassion was the second licensed medical marijuana dispensary to open in Port Alberni back in 2016. Vesaranta expressed frustration with the raid. He had tried to keep the store open on Wednesday, with the understanding that municipalities would be giving businesses “a grace period” while provincial licenses went through the screening process. Leaf Compassion applied for a provincial license last month, at a cost of $7,500.
“We’ve been doing everything by the law,” said Vesaranta.
Leaf Compassion was the second store raided on Wednesday, after the Port Alberni Cannabis Club—another municipally licensed shop that has applied for its provincial license—was raided in the morning. General manager Christine Jarvis said there was no warning on the license applications or the government’s website that they would be shut down.
“Nowhere did [anybody] say we had to shut our doors,” she said.
Vesaranta and Jarvis both said RCMP seized anything that was “in plain view”—products in display cases, paraphernalia that still had residue in it, medicinal products that contained THC. For Jarvis, her concern is for the clients, who are primarily medical users.
“We’ve met a lot of wonderful clients of ours,” she said. “They come in to medicate here, and now they can’t. This is about our clients and customers and giving them pain relief.”
Vesaranta also expressed concern about people turning to the black market without any licensed shops to turn to.
“People have been going to dispensaries here for years,” he added.
Although only two dispensaries were raided on Wednesday, other shops in Port Alberni—including WeeMedical on Third Avenue and OG West on Redford Street—have announced that they are closed “until further notice.” Both Leaf Compassion and the Cannabis Club will be staying open, although they will not be able to sell any cannabis products.
“We’re staying open to push out information to people,” said Vesaranta. “Now it’s just a matter of waiting.”
“We’re going to do our damnedest to stay open,” agreed Jarvis.
Both Vesaranta and Jarvis believe Port Alberni was the only city that had stores raided on Wednesday.
New provincial legislation and regulations require cannabis to be sold exclusively at government-run stores, licensed private retailers and the B.C. government’s online store. The province’s only “legal” pot shop is a BC Cannabis Store located in Kamloops. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth has said that there are 173 dispensary applications pending approval in the province. 62 of these have been approved by the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, and are now under review by local governments.
“While the legal recreational use of cannabis may be new, the enforcement of laws around the illegal production, distribution and consumption of cannabis is not,” stated Port Alberni RCMP in a press release.