B.C. pot dispensary landlord must pay $96,000 in fines: judge

A medical marijuana dispensary was ticketed 227 times.

A Langley landlord failed in a bid to overturn almost $100,000 in fines handed out by the Township over an unlicensed marijuana dispensary that operated for months in Aldergrove.

Yard Investments was the landlord of a dispensary established in the 27200 block of Fraser Highway in the spring of 2017.

The Starbuds medical dispensary was one of several that cropped up in Aldergrove in 2017 and early 2018. All were subject to a policy of ticketing by Township bylaw officers, and all eventually closed their doors.

Giovanni Romegioli, who grew up in Langley and was affiliated with Starbuds, told the Langley Advance in January that the Township “pretty much just bullied us into submission.”

Romegioli attempted to appeal his fines, but had to drop a lawsuit when it became too costly.

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

Yard Investments fought its own fines, and tried to quash a 2017 adjudicator’s decision that upheld fines of $96,250 against the property owner.

On Sept. 26, Justice Nigel Kent found that the challenge to the decision had “no merit” and dismissed the company’s case.

According to the ruling, Yard Investments bought the site in late 2016, and leased it to a numbered B.C. company affiliated with Romegioli and Starbuds in March 2017.

The lease agreement said the store would be used as a “medical access centre.”

On May 23, 2017, a Township bylaw officer, Manny Natt, inspected the site and was told about the planned dispensary. Natt called the store’s business manager and told her that dispensaries were not permitted in the Township, and warned her about potential tickets.

By May 30, the Township’s lawyers were sending letters to Starbuds and Yard Investments warning them that the dispensary was not permitted and the renovations were unlawful.

Yard was warned it was responsible for both the operations and the renovations, and that the Township could fine the landlord up to $500 a day and seek a court ordered shutdown of the business.

That same day, the first tickets were issued.

In all, between May 30 and Sept. 30, the Township issued 227 tickets against the business.

Yard Investments disputed each ticket, arguing through the company’s lawyer that it did not conduct any business on the site and was not responsible for the bylaw infractions.

Both Starbuds and Yard Investments fought the tickets at an adjudication hearing held on Oct. 17 last year. The adjudicator upheld all the tickets.

Justice Kent noted that it was clear that Yard Investments was fully aware that a marijuana business was operating, and that it was in breach of local regulations.

In the judicial review before Kent, Yard Investment’s lawyer argued that there was a “fundamental error” in the case – Starbuds was not the actual tenant of the store, a numbered company affiliated with Starbuds was the actual name on the lease.

Kent did not find the reasoning compelling, noting that all the staff at the store and when speaking at the adjudication hearing identified themselves as working for or with Starbuds.

The judge was also unconvinced by arguments that Yard Investments was denied a fair hearing, noting that they were sent a hefty document explaining the entire adjudication process.

“There is nothing in this process that is unfair or inappropriate,” Kent wrote. “To the contrary, from an ‘access to justice’ point of view, it is entirely suitable for a just and expeditious determination of non-criminal infractions of the bylaws of a municipality.”

The owners of Yard Investments even spoke at the hearing, Kent noted.

The challenge was dismissed, with Yard owing court costs in addition to the ticket fines, Kent ruled.

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