The province continued its crackdown on a popular unlicensed cannabis retailer in Victoria Thursday morning, shutting down a second Trees Cannabis store.
On Wednesday, members of the Community Safety Unit (CSU) – under the policing and security branch of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General – targeted a Victoria Trees location in the 600-block of Alpha Street, seizing all cannabis products and effectively suspending further operations at the store.
At that time, only one location was ordered to close, and Trees CEO Alex Robb said all other stores – in Nanaimo and Victoria – would suspend operations at the end of the day on Aug. 16 – a two-week timeline intended to provide more than 150 staff with adequate notice of termination and give customers time to purchase products not yet available in the legal market.
That changed Thursday morning when, according to Robb, the CSU started closing down a second Victoria Trees location on Yates Street, seizing the cannabis products inside. Subsequently, Robb has decided to immediately close all other Victoria locations – in North Park and Cook Street.
At this time, Nanaimo locations remain open.
In a statement made Wednesday, Robb said employees will be given severance pay and enrolled in employment insurance (EI) if they wish. Trees also has a plan to supplement EI through an unemployment benefits program.
“Our main concern right now is for our staff,” he said. “At this time, we cannot put our team at risk of fines from the CSU.”
Trees is in the financial screening stage of their licensing application. They must submit their entire business history, including investments, to the provincial government. Any investor is also liable for screening and could have to provide comprehensive financial records that date back 20 years.
According to Robb, the screening process has caused significant delays for Trees.
“We just received notice last week that they wanted those from people who had loaned the business money or invested back in 2015. These people have nothing to do with the business anymore, but they still need to account for it, so we’re trying to track them down and get them to submit all these documents to the government,” Robb said in a phone interview with Black Press Media.
“Given these additional inquires for further information, I’m projecting [we’ll be licensed] by late October. It’s really hard to say because we don’t know how long their screening process will take.”
Trees had reportedly planned to close Sept. 30 if it still hadn’t been granted a license. Robb said he gave notice to the Minister of Labour and the CSU about the dispensaries plans to slowly wind down operations.
“That timeline evidently didn’t work for them,” he said.
Colin Hynes, public affairs officer for the Public Safety and Solicitor General Communications Office, said the government will not comment on individual enforcement actions, but did confirm that the CSU will be increasing enforcement measures across the province.
“One of the things the minister said in October of 2018 was as more legal dispensaries come online, the CSU will increase its enforcement actions,” Hynes said.
CSU officers visited unlicensed dispensaries in many B.C. municipalities in May and June to educate dispensary operators and inform them of the risks, penalties, and enforcement actions CSU will take on unlicensed dispensaries. In light of this, Hynes said operators should not be surprised by enforcement actions.
Unlicensed dispensaries should expect CSU enforcement action over the coming weeks and months. Enforcement action will vary based on municipalities and bylaw enforcement protocol.