Uniformed police officers seizing marijuana was the last thing Kyle Cheyne expected to see in his dispensary on the first day of cannabis legalization in Canada.
The Port Alberni location of Cheyne’s Leaf Compassion Club and a second dispensary, the Port Alberni Cannabis Club, were visited by the RCMP on Wednesday.
Police said in a media release that the stores were operating in contravention of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act and without the proper provincial licences.
“While the legal recreational use of cannabis may be new, the enforcement of laws around the illegal production, distribution and consumption of cannabis are not,” said the release.
Cheyne said the police took between $4,000 and $5,000 worth of product, targeting only items on the shelf that were not approved by Health Canada and leaving a ticket for $575.
“They said they were sorry 12 times,” Cheyne said. “They wished us luck with our provincial application.”
Under new legislation and regulations that came into effect on Wednesday, cannabis is to be sold exclusively at government-run stores, licensed private retailers and the B.C. government’s online store.
However, the province only has one licensed location at this point, a government-run store in Kamloops.
Cheyne, whose Port Alberni shop earned a medical marijuana dispensary licence from the municipality three years ago and who has submitted an application for a provincial licence, said he was frustrated at being targeted during the period of transition from a grey to legal market for cannabis.
“If they had everything ready for the 17th, for example… I really believe there would be a lot more than that one government store open,” he said. “It’s the only reason we’re selling the product we have right now.”
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“We need this process to get a little bit quicker so we can get that menu from licensed producers, so we can continue to get the products to the people who have come to us for years. That’s really all we’re asking for at this point,” he added.
Earlier this week, Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said raids of unlicensed pot shops on day one of legalization were “highly unlikely.”
B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said last month that under the new rules, police would have the power to confiscate cannabis without a warrant should shops flout the new regulations.
However, he added that the province would slowly ramp up enforcement as more dispensaries transitioned into the legal market.
On Thursday, a ministry spokesperson said that police in B.C. operate at an arm’s length from government and make their enforcement decisions independently.
The RCMP did not reply to a request for comment.
In the meantime, Cheyne said the store is keeping its doors open and the targeted products off the shelf – at least in Port Alberni.
“They said they don’t want anything on display that’s not licensed by Health Canada… so we’re just not going to have anything that’s on display,” he said.
“And if people come in and say, ‘Hey, do you have this product,’ we’ll see what (our other location in) Chemainus has an hour down the road and maybe we can get people what they need.”
–With files from the Canadian Press