Ottawa threatens to bypass VPD and send in RCMP to bust Vancouver marijuana dispensaries

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The Vancouver Police Department is playing it cool in response to the suggestion the RCMP could be on its way into the City of Vancouver to shut down marijuana dispensaries.

« We have a great working relationship with the RCMP,” VPD Const. Brian Montague told the Straight. “I’ll let them [RCMP] respond to any insinuation that they are going to come into Vancouver.”

The spokesperson for the force made those remarks in response to the distribution of letters sent from Health Canada to a number of Vancouver marijuana dispensaries. In those documents, Ottawa threatens to send RCMP officers into the City of Vancouver.

“If the [named dispensary redacted] does not immediately cease all activities with controlled substances, we will contact, within 30 days of the date of this letter, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for enforcement action as they deem necessary,” reads a copy of the letter posted online at

“The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) prohibits any person from engaging in activities such as production, provision, sale (including offering for sale, import, export, transport, delivering of controlled substances unless authorized under its Regulations),” it continues.

The letters do not include an individual’s signature but are marked “Office of Medical Cannabis” and “Health Canada”.

In an email to the Straight, Health Canada spokesperson Patrick Gaebel subsequently confirmed the letters’ authenticity.

« On September 9, 2015, the Department (Office of Medical Cannabis) sent 13 letters to organizations who were found to be illegally advertising the sale of marijuana. The letters require that all advertising activities with marijuana cease, » Gaebel wrote. « Health Canada will attempt to work cooperatively with all parties involved to encourage compliance. If continued non-compliance is identified, the Department may refer the case to law enforcement agencies for appropriate action. »

If RCMP officers did cross into Vancouver and began to shut down marijuana storefronts, that would be a de facto overruling of both the City of Vancouver and the VPD. Those bodies have at least tacitly worked together on a hands-off approach while stating publicly that the illegal dispensaries are simply not a policing priority.

On the prospect of the RCMP conducting policing activities within the City of Vancouver and without the VPD’s cooperation, Montague declined to comment further and directed questions to the RCMP.

Speaking more generally, Montague said the nature of the Lower Mainland means the VPD and RCMP work together on a routine basis and regularly coordinate regional policing efforts.

“The Vancouver police will go into RCMP jurisdiction cities like Surrey, Coquitlam, and Richmond, to investigate crimes that originated in Vancouver,” he explained. “Of course criminals don’t look at city borders so there are often cases that take us beyond the City of Vancouver as well as cases the RCMP would have that would take them into our jurisdiction.”

On September 9, 2015, Health Canada began sending letters to Vancouver dispensaries warning that if they did not cease all unsanctioned activities with marijuana, further action could be taken by the RCMP.

The Straight has left messages requesting an interview with a representative for the Lower Mainland District RCMP. This article will be updated if and when an RCMP response is issued.

In June 2015, the City of Vancouver responded to a proliferation of marijuana storefronts by adopting a legal framework and regulations that Mayor Gregor Robertson has said will bring order to an illegal industry that the federal Conservative government has ignored.

Today (September 10) Robertson responded to the alleged Health Canada letter by calling it “curious”.

According to the Globe and Mail’s Andrea Woo, Robertson added he is hopeful the federal government “actually does something meaningful here — has some modern policy toward marijuana”.

It’s estimated there are more than 90 cannabis shops operating within Vancouver city limits.

In April 2015, Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety MinisterSteven Blaney co-signed a letter sent to Robertson and the VPD wherein they expressed Ottawa’s disapproval of Vancouver’s plan to regulate those dispensaries.

“Storefront sales of marijuana are illegal and under our government, will remain illegal,” it reads. “Like the vast majority of Canadians, the Government expects that police will enforce the laws of Canada as written.”

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