WeeMedical marijuana dispensary has announced it will close its doors on Nov. 9 following what manager Justin Liu says is “extreme pressure from Mayor Mike Ruttan.”
The illegal dispensary opened its doors in a commercial building on Third Avenue less than two weeks ago. The closure comes after landlord Martin Tessler, who lives in Vancouver, received a call from Ruttan letting him know the dispensary was not welcome.
“He said it’s not welcome in the town and he’s not happy it’s there and he basically rattled on that we could be charged and have our building taken away,” Tessler said.
Port Alberni RCMP Inspector Mac Richards said that a marijuana dispensary, despite being illegal, does not match the criteria of a building that the police would seize. He did add that the investigation was ongoing and further information could change that decision.
Ruttan defended his decision to call Tessler directly.
“The situation with that dispensary is that it’s an illegal activity, it’s not condoned under the Criminal Code and as such it’s not something that the city of Port Alberni can condone,” said Ruttan.
“As mayor, I can call virtually anyone I want to call whenever I feel the need to, as can any councillor.”
He added that since the dispensary is an illegal activity under the Criminal Code of Canada “it is not something the city of Port Alberni can or cannot approve as it’s not under our jurisdiction.”
Other municipal councils, for example Vancouver, have chosen to regulate dispensaries rather than shut them down.
Port Alberni’s city council has not publicly discussed the opening of WeeMedical in its jurisdiction.
WeeMedical received an “informational letter” from Port Alberni RCMP Insp. Mac Richards last week stating “if your illegal business practices do not cease, I will consider taking action in the future which may include your business being subject to search and seizure of offence related evidence…”
Liu feels that after receiving the letter and his landlord receiving the mayor’s phone call, he has little choice but to close the dispensary’s doors.
He said he’s not in town to get either himself nor his employees into trouble—just to do something he believes is good.
“I think it’s good for the community,” he said. If WeeMedical was up and running fully—not closing in under two weeks—it would have eight employees making over minimum wage, Liu said.
“That’s a lot of money going into the community.”
Tessler, who has family in Port Alberni, owns a variety of units in the city despite living in the Lower Mainland.
“I spent a good chunk of my childhood there. Every summer going there fishing and whatnot.”
Given his familiarity with the city, Tessler was surprised to see such a negative reaction to the dispensary.
“I didn’t expect that… in Vancouver there’s 170 or so of these and literally every fifth storefront on Fourth Avenue has something to do with marijuana, whether it’s a dispensary or a vapour lounge or a paraphernalia store.”
Tessler had hoped to see a similar approach as what Vancouver has done—licencing and regulation, not closure.
Liu feels the same way.
“In a small town, you have advantages that you can be more creative,” he said.
The issue comes to the next meeting of council. at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 at city hall.