Close Illegal Marijuana Store in Yaletown Residential Building
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We kindly ask you to consider this petition and support the closure of Weeds; a store that is illegally dispensing marijuana from the commercial unit of a Yaletown residential building. In addition to the exposure to children living in this building, the store is across the street from Emery Barnes Park, and social housing and services for vulnerable adults. A child care facility may be built across from Weeds. The 35 story 8X residential tower is currently under construction.
This petition was first circulated in August of 2016 and has been updated due to the upcoming deadline of March 29, 2019. Please note, this is not an anti-marijuana petition. The concern is in regards to this specific store - Weeds (corner of Richards and Helmcken Streets).
In summary, the City of Vancouver has provided two weeks notice to welcome written comments (March 29, 2019) in regards to Weeds' application to legally change from a "retail (limited food)" to Cannibas Store operating 9:00am to 11:00pm daily. The notice states "the application is "conditional" so it may be permitted. Since 2014, the municipal, provincial, and federal governments, and the Vancouver Police Department, have been shifting the accountability and decision making of marijuana dispensaries to each other. In December of 2018, the BC Supreme Court ruled the City can determine locations of dispensaries and enforce its bylaws. Weeds continues to illegally operate and profit in our neighbourhood. Therefore, no definitive action has taken place since the store's February 2015 illegal opening.
A large and growing number of concerns are provided in this petition. The owner of Weeds has a criminal background and current charges are laid against him and his staff. The owner further stalls the application process through continuous litigation. Weeds continues to operate in defiance and is now trying to do so legally.
We ask for your assistance in pressuring the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Police Department to (1) deny the application and (2) enforce the closure of the store. We kindly as that you please consider signing this petition below or email the City of Vancouver Project Coordinator directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Background and Community Concerns:
In February of 2015, an illegal marijuana store "Weeds" opened at 1108 Richards Street in the commercial property of Robinson Tower at 488 Helmcken (Richards and Helmcken in Yaletown). Robinson Tower is home to over 90 residential units including children of all ages and seniors. The store was quickly opened without Strata Approval or any resident consultation, and has disregarded both the Strata and City of Vancouver's directive to close the "medicinal marijuana" location. Both have issued fines that continue to be ignored by Weeds as it is a small cost of doing business.
The City later developed criteria for the opening of limited such stores that needed to be 300 metres away from schools, community centres and vulnerable adults. This is one of the main reasons many residents are frustrated. Residents of Robinson Tower do not understand how the criteria did not include restrictions prohibiting retailers from selling in a residential building with children and why daycares were omitted. In addition, they are located within 300m zone of the City bylaws. Many illegal stores in Vancouver closed after these bylaws were created. Nonetheless, Weeds lost its appeal to stay open but continued to operate - waiting until the Federal government legalized marijuana on October 17, 2018. The store hoped the legalization would build them more of a case to defy the closure and challenge with an appeal.
Three days after the legalization, the newly elected municipal government were voted in on Oct 20, 2018; thus stalling this issue. The federal legislation addresses how marijuana is to be sold, providing strict enforcements. The province is now slowly implementing their plan to legalize select stores and distribute safe Canibas in the BC Liquor Stores. The City provided no response to this 2016 petition. In a conversation with Sam Sullivan, he quickly brushed aside the concern.
In December of 2018, the BC Supreme Court ruled in favour of the City to close down illegal cannibas stores (City of Vancouver vs Karuna Health Foundation), enforcing closure and payments of fines. Honourable Chief Justice Hinkson stated:
" Retail cannabis dispensaries may well raise issues that touch upon health, safety, public nuisance, and youth exposure, but like every other business operating in a municipality, the operation of cannabis dispensaries may result in land-use conflicts, which will impact upon the local economy and character of a neighbourhood. As found by Gropper J. at para. 58 in the Abbotsford case, these are matters that legitimately raise regulatory issues that engage the Province’s jurisdiction over land-use (being regulation of properly and civil rights, as well as matters of a merely local or private nature). In that case, Gropper J. found at para. 53 that the provisions of the zoning bylaw that specifically prohibited the use of land and buildings for the cultivation, storage, or sale of marihuana were, in “pith and substance”, the regulation of land and building use and therefore within provincial jurisdiction In my view, the same conclusion follows in this case. [emphasis added]"
On March 14, 2019 the City has provided residents a "Notice of Development Application" stating:
WEEDS Glass and Gifts Ltd [there is no mention of marijuana/cannibas being sold anyway] has applied to the City of Vancouver for permission to develop on this site consisting of:
Change of use from retail (limited food) to Cannibas Store with:
- a floor area of approximately 1,410 square feet;
- and operational hours of 9:00am to 11:00pm seven (7) days a week.
The City wrote "Under the site's existing DD zoning, the application is "conditional" so it may be permitted".
After years of trying to get attention and action regarding this store, the City has just now provided residents, many of whom are away on Spring Break, only two weeks notice to provide written comments. At this time, the City has not returned calls to obtain further information on why an application is even being considered and the likelihood the City will grant the license despite the December 2018 BC Supreme Court ruling.
The store has created a number of problems for the residents and community:
- It blatantly markets marijuana to youth. See below. This store proclaimed before the legalization of marijuana that it distributes for medicinal purposes (without a license), yet operated well into the late night - especially during weekends, until they finally complied with posting store hours. Still, a worker has been seen remaining on site well past their official closing hour with the lights on.
- The store prides itself on using neon lights, RCMP figurines, 6ft neon gas heating lamps, and other tacky advertising to attract business and lure tourists who also often stop and take pictures of themselves in front of the store. These gimmicks were used fully on the corner’s sidewalk on evenings of the four summer fireworks nights when over 100,000 people ventured into downtown Vancouver. The store was incredibly busy on all of those nights. Again, this is prior to the legalization.
- If a liquor store was operating without a license it would have been quickly shut down. Residents do not understand why this is different. This petition is not about the legalization of marijuana - it is about where it is being dispensed, the loitering and smoking of marijuana in front of the building, and the hostile and uncooperative behaviour by the store in dealing with Strata’s concerns.
- The store is across the street from Emery Barnes playground/park and the Jubilee House. It is also close (and within 300m) to the Gathering Place where vulnerable adults are treated and/or reside. Two daycares that have pre-schools are within 300m. Weeds clientele are seen taking their product to the park and smoking by the large playground. Needles and other drug paraphernalia are found in the park which is not safe for children to freely play on the grass.
- The location, which is in such close proximity to children and vulnerable adults in the community, is highly concerning - both as exposure to marijuana but also as a possible gateway to other drugs. The rising cases of fentanyl (which can be deadly) in BC being laced/mixed with other types of recreational and more harmful drugs is a serious public health issue.
- Why are the children of this residential building and playground of no real concern to all levels of government? "Marijuana hijacks normal brain functioning in teens, and many scientists believe the drug may have permanent effects on brain development....[they] found structural changes in the brains of 18- to 25-year-olds who smoked pot at least once per week, compared to those of youth with little to no history of marijuana use." (2017, Barton A. Globe and Mail) Furthermore, researchers from Duke University ... found that the earlier and more frequently a person smoked pot, the greater the loss of intelligence by age 38."
- These types of [former] illegitimate medicinal marijuana stores claimed their product is solely for medicinal purposes yet customers state those without a prescription are linked with the "store's doctor" on Skype who prescribes marijuana for an “ailment” CBC, 2019). https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.4984331 Any non-marijuana prescription prescribed by a physician, e.g. anti-inflammatories, is “converted” to what they believe is a marijuana equivalent. The owner fully admits they have sold marijuana recreationally prior to legislation. This was a major concern in the original petition but concerns were raised with the owner since 2014, and still reflects how the store does not work with residents about their concerns. ://www.google.ca/amp/s/nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-tim-hortons-of-cannabis-63-year-old-king-seeks-franchisees-to-grow-his-marijuana-empire/amp
- Often some of their clientele loiter outside the store smoking marijuana that then comes in through the windows. The clientele can become very loud and sometimes hostile with each other and others who pass by, especially late at night. The City had to remove a public bench to help address the loitering. It’s still occurs.
- Over the past 20 years, the City has rezoned the neighbourhood as residential with limited commercial spaces. As per the City's objective, many of the bars and clubs moved centrally to the entertainment district of Granville Street. There were a number of visible prostitutes on the corners of Richards and Helmcken who are no longer there. A "massage parlour" which operated as brothel on the northeast corner was closed down. Moving legitimate marijuana stores to more commercial areas such as Granville St. is a clear resolve. In doing so, there is no shortage of the product for residents who wish to use it.
- The residents are worried about the devaluing of their property with such a store in the building. A number of condo buyers, particularly on the lower levels, will not purchase mainly due to the store.The smell of the marijuana has crept up to the floors above creating further devaluing of residential property.
- Home and building insurance for the residents may rise due to the commercial occupants who attract people prone to theft, vandalism etc. Insurance companies often ask Stratas and condo owners what type of commercial stores are in the building to assess risk.
- After marijuana was legalized in October 2018, the store no longer needed the guise of medicinal marijuana. Staff and customers are seen smoking marijuana within the store as though it were a cafe. The smell confirms it. Many people who purchase and leave the store, light up on the street corner in front of the building.
- Weeds now has 19 locations. The RCMP raided its Surrey stores and were shut down due to criminal activity. The owner of Weeds, has his own criminal background, serving seven years in prison. https://www.google.ca/amp/s/nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-tim-hortons-of-cannabis-63-year-old-king-seeks-franchisees-to-grow-his-marijuana-empire/amp The RCMP have current charges laid against him and his staff. However, the owner contends they are helping the opiod / fentanyl drug crisis by offering marijuana as an alternative. *Note, petition previously stated RCMP linked Weeds to organized crime; correction as Limelight is not owned by Weeds.
- Over years, the product has been laced with other illegal drugs such cocaine and heroin thus triggering addiction. Many illegal stores have been linked with organized crime. The City needs to review if Weeds is involved with any criminal activity. The owner speaks for himself about the RCMP raids in this interview:
- The owners/workers and some customers have been hostile to the point of threatening – legal and physical – to those who ask questions or challenge why they are still open. At times when they are asked questions, they simply provide their lawyer’s business card. There is a reasonable fear of retribution for speaking out.
- Because of public concerns of criminal activity and safe product, the government has implemented a slow plan to distribute Cannibas legally to the public. Weeds is defiant to get by that process by ignoring all strata and City fines.
- The commercial space could easily be used for a pre-school, and due to licensing requirement, Emery Barnes Park (across the street) could be their outside play area. The northwest corner used to have a Montessori school. When the area was redeveloped it shut down and the city said more child care and school space is being planned. This was a blow to the number of growing families living in downtown condos because they cannot afford houses in Greater Vancouver.
- The southwest 8X residential building is under construction - another 35+ floors of many families with young children. It is unknown at this time if another child care facility will be in the commercial space. If so, it would be directly across the street.
- The community is desperately in need of child care, schools, youth/teen centres, homelessness, and other community services that are hard to come by due to space and the high cost of leases downtown. The City has an opportunity to work with Strata to open a place where its services are needed by the community.
- Unlike a neighbourhood small business, there is no financial hardship to Weeds, that has 19 stores, by closing this location.
- Their are a number of nearby marijuana stores that comply with the bylaws and are not in residential buildings. Their neighborhood customers have other choices.
Again, this petition is not about anti-marijuana. The City needs to recognize the impact this store is having on the neighborhood. If the bylaws are too strict, fix it. If the bylaws are not reasonable, change it. But this store has been defying the Strata and City bylaws for 4 years, so enforce it.
In summary, Weeds continues to operate illegally and continues to be a growing concern to the residents of 488 Helmcken and the community at large. We ask the community to help petition the City of Vancouver to take immediate action. Our City should not reward Weeds by accepting its application.
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