As the City of West Kelowna continues its crackdown on illegal cannabis dispensaries, city councillors say B.C. should follow Ontario’s lead and only allow the sale of the drug through government-controlled stores.
Earlier this week, during a special council meeting to respond to a call from the province for input from municipalities on questions surrounding the distribution of cannabis once the federal government makes it legal next summer, West Kelowna council said it would prefer to see government distribution rather than private dispensaries or direct distribution by producers.
Earlier this month, council pulled the business licences of two of the six established dispensaries in the city and has written to the other four—which operate without business licences—ordering them to cease operations by Oct. 31. If they refuse, the city can levy fines of up to $500 per day.
Following the decision to cancel the business licences of Black Crow Herbals and The Healing Company, a spokesman for Black Crow Herbals in Vernon, where it has another dispensary, said the company would continue operating in West Kelowna, even without a business licence.
Ottawa is leaving the issue of cannabis distribution to the provinces, and while some have announced how they plan to proceed, B.C. has not. Ontario has said it will only allow the sale of cannabis products through government liquor stores.
West Kelowna decided to put the dispensaries operating in the city out of business after hearing from the RCMP earlier this year that existing dispensaries are operating illegal. Representatives for both Black Crow and The Healing Company asked city council to hold off on a decision about the business licences until the province announces how it plans to proceed with distribution. But that appeal was rejected.
Operators say they are helping people who need cannabis products for a myriad of health-related ailments and shutting dispensaries will only hurt the people who now depend on them. Given that the federal government will make marijuana legal as of July 1, 2018, they say are shutting down dispensaries is unnecessary, despite not knowing what method of distribution the province will decide to go with after next July.
In addition to the West Kelowna wanting the province to handle distribution, it also wants smoking marijuana in public places treated the same as cigarette smoking is treated now, with bans on smoking in public buildings and public places such as parks, as well as within three metres of a doorway.
If the province allows private dispensaries, West Kelowna council said it wants to be able to zone for them in order to keep them out of areas such as the Westbank town centre, where several currently operate.
Meanwhile, in Kelowna, city council will provide its input in response to the province in a meeting planned for Monday morning at city hall. City staff are expected to make recommendations about what position the city should take in its response to Victoria.
Unlike West Kelowna, the City of Kelowna has not issued any business licences to dispensaries said city clerk Stephen Fleming. He added anyone one who inquires about opening a dispensary in the city is told they are illegal and operators could be subject to enforcement action.
“But (those inquiries) have happened and are happening,” said Fleming.
Despite the warning, there are at least nine marijuana dispensaries currently operating in the city.
Earlier this year, West Kelowna held a meeting at the municipal staff level in order to discuss a coordinated approach to dispensaries in the valley. The issue has also been raised by valley mayors at they regular meetings.
Kelowna amended its zoning bylaw in April to prohibit storefront sales of marijuana.
At the time, the city’s community planning manager Ryan Smith said dispensary operators should take a second look at what they are doing in Kelowna.
“If you own a dispensary and you are doing storefront dispensing of marijuana, I think that you should rethink the model that you’ve chosen and maybe take a step back and try to focus on a different business model rather than retailing marijuana until we know what the rules are going to be from the federal and provincial governments,” he said.
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