VANCOUVER - Vancouver police raided and arrested staff at a marijuana store Wednesday, just one day after city council voted to hold public consultations on regulating pot shops.
Police said an investigation into Weeds Glass and Gifts on the city's west side began in March after they were alerted to public safety concerns, including the hospitalization of a 15-year-old who allegedly bought edible products and other incidents involving youth.
Officers obtained a search warrant, and on Wednesday entered the illegal business, arrested staff and seized evidence. Customers and staff at the store on West 4th Avenue were identified and released pending further investigation, police said.
"Our priority remains focused on violent drug traffickers and those who prey on youth and the marginalized in our community," police said in a news release.
"However, these shops are all illegal and the VPD will continue to respond to concerns and take incremental steps to decide if further investigation or enforcement action is required."
The raid came as the city considers a proposal to regulate illegal medical marijuana dispensaries that have multiplied in recent years across Vancouver. Council members voted to refer the issue to a public hearing.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney sent a letter to council and Vancouver police warning that storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and urged them to uphold the law.
The VPD said Wednesday that it has obtained nine search warrants against dispensaries in the past 18 months, and warned operators that they could face criminal charges and asset forfeiture.
"Police will take action again if there are public safety concerns, particularly if they involve youth," the statement said.
Don Briere, the owner of 10 Weeds Glass and Gifts locations across Vancouver, said he only learned of the raid Wednesday and had no prior knowledge of the police investigation.
"I hope (the allegations) are not true, but if they are, obviously the person will face charges as well as be fired," he said. "And if it's a customer who purchased it and gave it to somebody, then they should be charged."
Briere said one staff member was detained but released without charges, and all of the store's marijuana products were seized.
Briere, considered a colourful character in the city's marijuana community, said he was imprisoned in the late 1990s for running a network of grow-ops and was sent back to prison after he opened a pot shop while on parole in 2004.
He said the city's proposal to regulate pot businesses will ease access for medical marijuana patients, create jobs and take money out of the hands of organized crime.
Briere added he doesn't consider Wednesday's raid a "crackdown."
"I don't think they're cracking down. I think what they're doing is taking care of business the way they should be," he said. "If that in fact did happen, then they did the right thing. I support the police 100 per cent."
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