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Authorities Target Pot Shops With Canadian Law

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) — Despite its liberal reputation and "Vansterdam" alias, Vancouver, B.C., is taking more than a dozen marijuana dispensaries to court to shut them down for operating without valid business licenses.

Vancouver named dozens of respondents on May 31 in 17 similar petitions in British Columbia Supreme Court, including the Greater Vancouver BC Pain Society, the Canadian Weed Cannabis Society, and Health Lifestyle Marihuana ID Card Supplies Centre Ltd.

The city government has struggled since an explosion in the number of dispensaries operating in town, which ballooned to more than 100 in 2015, up from fewer than 20 in 2012.

Court decisions bolstering patients' access to medical marijuana emboldened several activists and entrepreneurs to open dispensaries, which are still illegal under Canadian federal law.

Despite an election promise to legalize the drug from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal Party ousted the Conservative Party of Canada under Stephen Harper in October 2015, cities across the nation have had wildly different policy responses to the pot shops opening up on street corners.

Vancouver, with a municipal police force that deals with major drug problems downtown and does not prioritize marijuana-related investigations, has introduced a licensing scheme with tight regulations on dispensaries, despite the drug remaining illegal under federal law. Operators, for example, must be at least 300 meters (984 feet) from schools and community centers. In addition, medical marijuana retailers are subject to a $30,000 licensing, while so-called compassion clubs are on the hook for a $1,000 fee.

Early on, many dispensaries skirted city licensing requirements by incorporating as nonprofit societies, rather than incorporated businesses.

The legal maneuvering by Vancouver stands in stark contrast to Toronto, where the city's drug squad raided more than 40 dispensaries on May 26, laying charges against 90 employees of the shops and seizing cash, edibles, and more than 300 pounds of pot.

The petitions filed by the City of Vancouver are nearly identical and short on detail. They simply seek orders for pot shop owners and operators to cease doing business.

"The Respondents are acting in contravention of the License Bylaw by operating a business in the City of Vancouver without a subsisting City business license," the petitions state.

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