The director of a popular Island-based marijuana dispensary received a $1.5-million fine months after the dispensaries were shut down by the province.
Near the end of January, Alex Robb, director and general manager of Trees Cannabis, was fined $1.5 million for the sale of illicit marijuana – marking the first known administrative penalty levied to an individual under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act.
The fine follows a provincial crackdown in late July that saw members of the Community Safety Unit (CSU) – a policing and security branch of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General – target Trees’ eight locations spread between Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver. The dispensary was in the process of obtaining a retail licence when the raids occurred and all cannabis products were seized.
The hefty fine Robb now faces is based on Trees retail prices and the amount of product sold between May 29, 2019 (when the CSU executed its first inspection and gave direction to “cease selling cannabis and obtain proper licensing”) and July 31.
Robb was given the option of admitting to the contravention and paying a reduced penalty of $771,557.50 or challenging the fine. He was initially given 30 days to make his decision and says he was prohibited from reviewing the evidence, but has since been given an extension and access to the documents when the CSU made an update to its disclosure policy.
Robb says the company put away some funds in preparation for an incoming fine but he was “quite surprised” to see such a high number.
“This is beyond our means to pay,” he says. “We are working on other sources of funds to pay the remaining amount.”
But Robb says he’s still considering disputing the fine. He argues that as a director and general manager, he wasn’t personally responsible for the sale of the marijuana. He also says a number of dispensaries operated without licences and seemingly aren’t paying the same price.
“There are significant issues with their process here…I never sold the cannabis, I’m directing the organization,” he says. “I would much rather put this behind me and move on with my life. I need to carefully weigh my options and take a closer look at the evidence.”
Robb says one of the reasons Trees operated without a licence was to serve the community of people consuming medical, high-grade marijuana, much of which is currently unavailable in the legal market. He says the new licences neglect “the medical users who pushed for legalization in the first place.”
As for the future of Trees, Robb says the company will continue with the licensing process, which has been put on hold during contravention fine proceedings.
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