Close or pay up: Unauthorized cannabis stores in Abbotsford may soon face huge fines

Minimum fine of $5,000 set for selling, storing or cannabis without licence

Abbotsford cannabis dispensaries operating without a licence could soon face huge fines.

On Monday, the city opened a two-month window for would-be legal cannabis sellers to apply to operate one of four new stores in Abbotsford. At a council meeting the same day, staff introduced a new bylaw that will, upon adoption, give bylaw officers the ability to levy huge fines against cannabis sellers who aren’t licenced and approved by the city.

A new enforcement bylaw will set a minimum fine of $5,000 for the unauthorized production, storing, processing or selling of cannabis. The city has previously fined unlicenced marijuana dealers for operating without a business licence.

The city is also hiking other fine amounts to $500. The changes won’t impact parking or other minor regulatory violations. Fines reduced – or wiped out – if those ticketed sign a compliance agreement.

Raj Sharma, the city’s finance general manager, said the fines hadn’t been increased to match inflation and were no longer deterring residents and businesses from violating bylaws.

“These fines are treated as the cost of doing business,” he said.

Council gave the bylaw three readings Monday. It is likely to be adopted in two weeks.

The city has also opened a competitive process to determine who will be allowed to legally sell marijuana in Abbotsford. The city has set a four-store limit and pre-zoned 10 sites – mostly in large and medium-sized shopping complexes – to permit cannabis sales.

Would-be sellers have two months to submit applications. The applications will include details on the operator, the store’s layout, and measures to mitigate the effect on the surrounding effort.

Applicants must confirm that they are not currently operating an unauthorized cannabis business, but those who have operated unauthorized cannabis businesses in the past are not barred – so long as they close their shops by the time they apply.

It will cost prospective sellers $7,500 to buy. The city says that will cover the costs associated with reviewing and collecting input on each proposal.

After the city closes the application period, staff will review the proposals. Police and the Abbotsford School Board will also be consulted, the city will seek the public’s input, and council will be left to endorse up to four of the proposals.

The News asked the city for details about fines levied against unlicenced cannabis sellers in 2019, but did not hear back by press time.

RELATED: Aspiring pot-sellers can apply in two weeks to operate stores in Abbotsford

RELATED: Abbotsford looks to charge aspiring legal cannabis sellers large fee to apply to open store

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