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B.C. city asks judge to ban cannabis entrepreneur

Don Briere has about 20 franchise partners across B.C. and now in Toronto.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

After a successful court battle to shut down one of Don Briere's illegal pot shops in Abbotsford, the city is now asking a judge to outlaw his remaining franchise and ban the cannabis entrepreneur from operating in the community.

The City of Abbotsford filed a petition this week to stop Mr. Briere, owner of the largest chain of dispensaries in Canada, or any of his partners from running a pot shop in the city without a valid business licence – something the mayor says Mr. Briere will never obtain as long as marijuana remains illegal. The city is also asking a judge to force Mr. Briere's business to pay all outstanding fines, which bylaw officers have been levying almost daily as they ticket the store on South Fraser Way for operating illegally.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said his city is committed to using the courts to stop a bloom in illegal dispensaries rather than the more heavy-handed tactic of police raids, which have occurred in other Canadian municipalities. Illegal dispensaries have been popping up in cities across Canada, before the federal Liberal government legalizes recreational marijuana, which will take at least a year.

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"We'll abide by what the court decides," Mr. Braun said Wednesday. "If you don't like the laws, then go change them.

"Your beef's not with me; it's with the federal government and Health Canada. I didn't make up these rules, but I am to uphold them as a mayor."

Still, this tactic is novel in B.C., where municipalities – led by Vancouver – are increasingly regulating pot shops.

Mr. Braun denied the allegation from Mr. Briere that his community – often referred to as part of the Lower Mainland's "Bible Belt" – was out of touch with public sentiment.

"I'm not responsible for what Vancouver does, I'm responsible for what Abbotsford does," Mr. Braun said. "My understanding – and I think most other jurisdictions are on the same side of the fence – is under the current legislation, it's an illegal business."

The face-to-face sale of cannabis products is illegal because the stores procure and sell their merchandise outside of Health Canada's licensed medical marijuana system. It was overhauled in 2014, and now allows about two dozen industrial-scale growers to mail their products directly to patients with a doctor's prescription.

There is no official tally of dispensaries across Canada. Until now, about 150 have operated in Vancouver and Victoria, the vast majority of such operations in the country. Toronto now has roughly 60, most opening in the past several months.

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Mr. Briere, a marijuana magnate with about 20 franchise partners across B.C and now in Toronto, said he has yet to be served the latest lawsuit but will continue to fight Abbotsford's attempt to outlaw him from selling cannabis in the community.

"I would think we're going to probably shut it down [if the judge rules against the dispensary], but we're going to fight it all the way through the courts and we're going to ask how much it has cost [taxpayers]," he said. "This is a criminal misuse of public resources."

The city's statement of claim alleges that Mr. Briere applied for a licence to operate twice last August, first as a "medical cannabis retailer" and then as a store offering the "retail sale of glass products and gifts."

Mr. Briere never confirmed with the city's head licence inspector that no cannabis would be stored or sold on the premises, so his application was denied, the statement of claim alleges. He shut down a neighbouring Abbotsford location shortly after a Supreme Court judge granted an injunction to the city in January.

After multiple police raids of his franchises, Mr. Briere often reopens the stores the next day and continues to sell cannabis products.

"It's going to be legal here pretty soon," he said.

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About the Author
News reporter

Mike Hager is a general assignment reporter at the newspaper’s B.C. bureau. He grew up in Vancouver and graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s Huron College and Langara College. Before joining The Globe and Mail, he spent three years working for The Vancouver Sun. More

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