After allowing two medical marijuana dispensaries to operate for six months under Temporary Use Permits, Penticton city council has decided not to extend the permits. File photo

Council extinguishes medical marijuana dispensaries

Penticton city council has decided the experiment with medical marijuana dispensaries is over.

By a count of 5-2, council voted to not extend the temporary use permits granted to Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy and Green Essence in December, and instead work with them on a consent order that would see the businesses operate as wellness centres.

A wellness centre would allow them to sell paraphernalia and related items, but not marijuana itself. They would also be able to guide people on obtaining legal, prescription access and lobby for the legalization.

Couns. Max Picton and Tarik Sayeed were the dissenting votes, with Sayeed coming down on the side of ensuring access to marijuana for people in need.

Picton said the two marijuana dispensaries served a need in the community, and the six-month temporary use permits issued in December constituted a useful trial.

“I did not receive negative feedback from the community,” said Picton. “My view is the TUPs should be extended.”

Coun. Judy Sentes, who previously supported the dispensaries, changed sides. She originally supported the TUP, she said, because she had empathy for the people expressing a need for medical marijuana.

“I thought the TUP would get us through to a time as the federal government made it legal,” said Sentes, expressing dismay at the length of time the legalization process is taking — it is not expected to happen before mid-2018. “The way that it is now I think this is the only resolution we can do.”

This is the second time extending the TUPs came before council. The discussion was deferred from the July 4 meeting after the debate resulted in a number of 3-3 ties, with one councillor absent.

Staff continued to recommend against renewing the TUPs, as they did on July 4, and in December. Staff’s latest recommendation was for staff to work with legal counsel to permit Green Essence and Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy to obtain compliance as a wellness centre through a consent order under the civil action process. With that, staff also recommend that council resolve to prohibit marijuana dispensaries in the City of Penticton until such time as the federal and provincial governments lawfully permit such use.

One of the staff arguments against the permits was the possibility of the city exposing itself to liability. According to the staff report, the city’s insurance provider advised there is no clear cut answer whether the city would be covered against legal action.

“It was suggested that should an incident occur, in all likelihood the city may be covered for negligence,” reads the report. “Although the risk may be low, the consequence of an unfortunate event would be high.”

The main function of the wellness centre is the lobbying and the discussion around the future status of legalization.

Anthony Haddad, director of development services, said negotiating the consent orders with the two businesses will take about two to three months.

The staff recommendation also covers an attempt to conclude two legal actions involving a third dispensary, Herbal Green, which has been operating without a temporary use permit. The two actions are the city’s petition for civil injunction relief, and the second a judicial review of the city’s decision to grant TUPs to other dispensaries but not Herbal Green.

“Herbal Green will be offered a formal offer to conclude the legal actions without further costs by entering into a consent order as a wellness centre. The staff recommendation maintains a consistent approach with all three dispensaries.”