Judge tosses Okanagan pot shop suit over unlicensed stores on reserve


A BC judge tossed out a claim from 14 cannabis stores which claimed the province's inability to control unlicensed shops on First Nation reservation lands was hurting their business.

The 14 businesses from the Shuswap to Penticton launched the suit last year, seeking $40 million in damages from the province. According to their claim, a lack of enforcement on unlicensed First Nations stores was costing them $500,000 per year, unable to compete with reserve stores like those along the Okanagan Indian Band's "Green Mile."

Justice Jasvinder Basran made no ruling on whether the province should enforce licensing laws on those stores or not, but he did find the province has no duty to protect the profits of the 14 licensed stores.

Basran said the province could not control how many stores, licensed or not, would sell cannabis in BC. He said enforcement by the Community Safety Unit is "discretionary" and can include monetary penalties if a store is found to be selling without a license.

However, it was not intended to protect private business interests of those who have a license, according to Basran's decision.

"The Province cannot control the number of individuals who sell cannabis through unlicensed dispensaries thereby causing licensed retailers to lose profits," he said in his decision.

READ MORE: High times at Okanagan Indian Band's 'Green Mile'

Basran found the claim was "bound to fail" and dismissed it.

The 14 stores launched their claim in April 2022, but none of their trading names were included in the suit. They were each listed under their numbered companies.

"The (provincial government) took no actions whatsoever on their own initiative to control sales by illicit retailers on reserves," the notice of claim reads. "The (cannabis stores) state that the (provincial government) were grossly negligent in allowing the continued sale of cannabis by illicit retailers despite knowing the deleterious effect on the legal retail industry."

It went on to say the province is well aware of unlicensed stores on reserves, but has done nothing to stop them.

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