Victoria's largest cannabis dispensary chain shuttered
A provincial cannabis enforcement officer (right) stands outside Trees dispensary on Yates Street in downtown Victoria on Aug. 1, 2019. (CTV Vancouver Island)
The largest chain of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries in Victoria is no more.
Approximately half a dozen police and provincial cannabis enforcement officers raided the downtown Trees dispensary location Thursday, one day after shuttering the company's location near Mayfair mall.
In response, chief executive officer Alex Robb has decided to shut down all three remaining Trees locations in the city, while the future of the company's two shops in Nanaimo is up in the air.
"We have now closed down and removed cannabis products from all of our Victoria locations," Robb told CTV News. "I had hoped yesterday that we could reasonably have two weeks to close down in an organized fashion."
While cannabis has been legal in Canada since October 2018, retail operators are required to follow a rigid regulatory framework, attain a series of approvals from the city and provincial government, and source their inventory solely from federally licensed cannabis producers.
The closure of all five Trees dispensaries in Victoria has left 92 people out of work and thousands of customers without a trusted medical cannabis supplier.
While recreational cannabis users and medical users who don't have barriers to accessing or administering cannabis can buy marijuana from Victoria's licensed retail shops or the BC Cannabis Stores website, some medical users rely on dispensaries like Trees which carry specialized products.
"We have a number of medical users, some of whom we provide cannabis to on a subsidized basis because they have conditions that are terminal or severely debilitating and they don’t have financial means," Robb said.
"The legal system is not built for these medicinal users and the medical system is not adequate for their needs right now either because a lot of the products such as topicals, suppositories, pain patches aren’t available from the legal marketplace yet."
Wednesday's raid coincidentally came on the same day that the province opened its first cannabis store on the island, more than nine months after marijuana was legalized by the federal government.
For months the B.C. government has threatened illegal dispensaries with enforcement but operators like Robb have flouted the law, betting that enforcement wouldn't come until provincial stores had opened in the markets they operate in.
Robb is taking a similar gamble now in Nanaimo, keeping two Trees dispensaries open in the city that currently has no legal cannabis alternative.
"There is not a single licensed store in Nanaimo and the province indicated back in October that their enforcement would be guided by the licensing of stores in different regions," Robb said. "So we are going to be watching the licensing of stores very carefully."
The province now has one year to decide whether or not to levy fines against the two raided Trees locations. The size of the fines would be based on the amount of cannabis inventory seized in either raid.
Trees locations in Victoria are now in the process of becoming licensed recreational cannabis retailers, Robb said.