Giovanni Romegioli of the now-closed Starbuds shop says the dispensary was “bullied” out of business by Langley Township. (Langley Advance files)

B.C. marijuana dispensary operator ordered to pay $270,000 in fines

Months of tickets from Langley bylaw officers added up.

The former operator of a Langley medical marijuana dispensary failed in a bid to have $270,000 worth of fines against him dismissed by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

The ruling could potentially mean the loss of his home for Giovanni Romegioli, who was affiliated with the shuttered Starbuds dispensary that operated in Aldergrove last year.

In an Oct. 30 ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nitya Iyer agreed with an adjudicator’s decision to uphold more than 200 tickets issued to Starbuds and Romegioli.

Romegioli leased a storefront in downtown Aldergrove in 2017, through a numbered company, from landlord Yard Investments.

The dispensary opened in May and almost immediately drew the attention of Langley Township bylaw officers, who visited the site, spoke to staff, and issued written warnings. Those warnings very quickly turned into frequent bylaw infraction tickets.

The Township does not allow any marijuana dispensaries, and fined the store almost daily for operating one, adding fines for renovations and a sign for the store.

Yard Investments terminated the lease in late November last year, and the dispensary closed down.

Romegioli disputed all the bylaw fines at an adjudication hearing on Feb. 28 this year.

“The adjudicator upheld all the bylaw notices,” wrote Iyer.

That led to Iyer’s courtroom and Romegioli’s petition for a judicial review and the overturning of the fines.

READ MORE: Marijuana dispensaries fined more than $200,000 in Langley Township

• READ MORE: Langley pot dispensary landlord must pay more than $96,000 in fines: judge

Romegioli argued both that the decision was procedurally unfair, and that he was not, in fact, the owner or operator of Starbuds, nor was he the tenant of the property.

But Iyer noted that, leaving aside the question of who had leased the store, “there was evidence that Mr. Romegioli was the sole shareholder of the [numbered] company, he was on the premises, represented himself as being in charge, and accepted bylaw infraction notices.”

She also found no issues of procedural fairness were violated by the adjudication process.

The combined total of fines and costs against Romegioli is now about $270,000, and the Township is now seeking judgment on the title of Romegioli’s home for the combined fines and court costs.

If the home is sold, a portion of the proceeds would be paid towards the Township. The Township council could theoretically attempt to force a sale.

“We don’t typically do that, we wait it out,” said Bill Storie, senior advisor to the council.

Storie said that despite legal costs, the Township is likely to come out ahead financially in the end.

But he said it isn’t about that, the fines are about setting a tone so people know the Township will take action on bylaw infractions.

Romegioli said he had no comment when contacted by Black Press

When he spoke to the Langley Advance in January this year about the situation, he said the Township had “pretty much just bullied us into submission.”

Earlier this fall, a judge also upheld fines against the building’s landlord, Yard Investments. A judgment has also been placed on Yard’s assets, Storie said.

Several cannabis dispensaries started up in Langley in 2016 and 2017, most of them in Aldergrove. The Township fined them daily until they closed, with fines ranging from $800 to $1,300 daily.

Since the businesses couldn’t be licensed under Township regulations, the only way to stop the fines was to shut down.

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mclaxton@langleyadvance.com

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