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The stunning hypocrisy of the Squamish cannabis dispensary raids

Earlier this month, the province's Community Safety Unit (CSU) raided two Squamish cannabis dispensaries. Two weeks later, and the reasoning behind this enforcement action remains hazy.
BUZZKILL Bryan Raiser speaks with an RCMP officer as his cannabis dispensary, 99 North, is closed in Squamish on Nov. 5. Photo by Keili Bartlett / Squamish Chief

Earlier this month, the province's Community Safety Unit (CSU) raided two Squamish cannabis dispensaries.

Two weeks later, and the reasoning behind this enforcement action remains hazy. In fact, there has been virtually no explanation as to why two long-standing local businesses, 99 North and Grassroots Medicinal, that have not only received municipal officials' blessing but both applied for a provincial license to operate more than a year ago, would have thousands of dollars worth of product unceremoniously seized. The CSU told The Squamish Chief the province has taken action or conducted educational visits at 191 stores in B.C. to date, including in Squamish.

As first reported by The Chief, 99 North owner Bryan Raiser said the only explanation he was given was that his shop was operating illegally. Never mind that Raiser's was the first dispensary in Squamish to apply to the province, and hasn't so much as heard a word on its status despite his repeated requests to Victoria. (Raiser claimed he was told four months ago that he may have to shut down and that officials would "look into it," but he was expecting a call in advance before any action was taken.)

"The reason they gave me is ... that it's an illegal shop, and it's been an illegal shop for five months. But the thing is, I have been so open and honest about operating this," Raiser told The Chief. "The municipality, my MLA have all been very supportive ... I've been on my knees, crying, begging the process to tell me what I can do. For 15 months, I've been waiting for a response to my application."

In what has become a running theme for the stilted, confusing and complicated rollout of cannabis retail in B.C., the dispensaries—not to mention the public at large—are left with more questions than answers. Even the RCMP members onsite for the Nov. 5 raids told the press they weren't given any reason for the CSU action, while a CSU spokesperson said he couldn't release why these two specific shops were closed.

The CSU is the public safety ministry's enforcement arm, ostensibly responsible for compliance and enforcement under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act—but, with little in the way of transparency, we can only hazard a guess as to what the true underlying goal of these recent raids really was. The optimistic part of me wants to believe the CSU's sole mandate is spelled out in its title: community safety. But the cynic in me fears that, like so many things in this world, it all comes back to the money.

It doesn't strike me as coincidence that these raids took place just weeks after Squamish's first provincially approved dispensary, Sky High, was given the greenlight. Governments, by and large, don't appreciate having their money stream messed with. Besides, if the NDP was so concerned with these illegal pot shops and the threat they presented to the public, why did it wait so long to take action?

The sheer hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Here you have a government sending in its own newly minted police force to shut down two illegally operating businesses that are presumably only illegal because of said government's ineptitude in processing the immense backlog of applications that have piled up since before legalization. Orwell is probably spinning in his grave.

In politics, perception is often reality, and without even a minimal effort to clear up the increasingly muddy waters of the CSU's enforcement tactics, it certainly appears that a government tasked with regulating the very industry it stands to make billions of dollars from stepped in to shut down a pair of competitors.

Taken with the Oct. 30 raid of an unlicensed Vancouver pot shop—the Medical Cannabis Dispensary run by Dana Larsen, a fierce critic of B.C.'s cannabis framework for years and who, like 99 North, had been given the OK from city officials—and it certainly seems like the NDP is more concerned with its own cash cow than its tired platitudes towards "community safety."