Vancouver’s Cannabis Culture to lay off 50 employees, close dispensaries

Closure comes after a provincial lawsuit found that the City of Vancouver has the power to regulate cannabis stores

Cannabis Culture started as a magazine but in the last few years has operated retail storefronts | Cannabis Culture

Vancouver’s pioneering cannabis company Cannabis Culture plans to lay off 50 employees, close its three dispensaries by January 31 and embark on a process to operate legal cannabis stores.

The 24-year-old company started as a magazine-publishing venture but morphed into also running cannabis stores that are illegal under federal and provincial law even though the Canadian government legalized retail cannabis sales on October.

The stores set to close are at 1674 Davie Street, 3421 E. Hastings Street and 3175 W. Broadway.

The company was one of dozens of cannabis businesses that took the City of Vancouver to B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that the city had no authority to license cannabis businesses. B.C. Supreme Court justice Christopher Hinkson, however, ruled in favour of the city on December 13, and the city has since made clear that it will ramp up enforcement to try to close cannabis stores that have not gone through the provincial government’s process to get licensed and paid fees, which include about $9,000 to the province and $33,097 to the city for a business licence.

Cannabis Culture, and other shops, could face contempt of court charges if they remain open past January 31.

“It is with great sadness that we must announce the forced closure of three of our Cannabis Culture dispensary locations and the laying-off of over 50 employees, due to heavy-handed tactics by the City of Vancouver,” Cannabis Culture CEO Jeremiah Vandermeer said in a January 8 release.

Cannabis Culture locations at 1674 Davie Street, 3421 E. Hastings Street, and 3175 W. Broadway will all close

The City has warned that staying open would mean the arrest of staff, hefty fines, jail time, and forced closure of buildings where the dispensaries operate, according to Cannabis Culture.

Cannabis Culture noted that it and other cannabis dispensaries are asking the city to grant “emergency licences” to the shops, “so they can continue to serve thousands of medical patients and other customers who require products that are not currently available at recreational stores, like extracts and edibles.”

The city would be acting illegally if it issued such a licence, however, given that it is the province that governs the retail operation of cannabis stores. The province has mandated that both it and muncipalities must both approve a store in order for that store to operate.

Products such as edibles and concentrates for vape pens are illegal to sell under the federal Cannabis Act. Ottawa has put in regulations connected to that law that edibles and other cannabis products will become legal by October 2019.

The federal government released proposed regulations for those products in December.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom