Pot buyers back on the street again

Ann (who asked her real name not be used) dropped by her favourite dispensary, Herbal Green Apothecary, Wednesday to pick up some medical marijuana, possibly for the last time.

As of 6 p.m. that day, shop owner Jukka Laurio, was closing the doors to the Westminster Avenue business for good, or at least until further notice.

“I’m really scared about what I’m going to do and where I’m going to go to get what I need, and my regular doctor won’t give me a prescription,” said Ann, 58, who uses pot to help with the pain of her arthritis. “I’m afraid to go out on the street and ask people I might get robbed or worse.”

Ann was among a steady stream of Herbal Green clientele that day who paid at the counter and went upstairs to the members lounge to retrieve their required product.

Laurio’s dispensary was one of three in the city — Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy and Green Essence were the others — which recently received warning letters from the RCMP.

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The letter advised dispensary operators of the ramifications of not complying with the Controlled Drugs and Substances act, specifically regarding Canadian marijuana regulations.

At that time Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the news of the enforcement by RCMP came as a surprise and he questioned why police were only starting then and not earlier.

As a way to have some control, the City of Penticton decided to issue temporary use permits to Okanagan Cannabinoid and Green Essences.

Herbal Green did not get a permit but continued to operate as a dispensary in spite of incurring $500 daily fines.

The city canceled Laurio’s business licence, and is proceeding with legal action to recover outstanding fines in provincial court, and an injunctive action in B.C. Supreme Court.

Laurio believes the decision locally and the closure of other dispensaries in the province is an indication of the federal government’s pending move on legalization.

“There’s legislation coming in the spring, at least in theory, something new coming down the pipe,” said Laurio, whose customers started a petition in the shop after word of the closure got out. “I presume they have some sort of solid plan and they (federal government) want to clear out the dispensaries, wipe the slate clean so they can start all over again.

“If they have an actual plan it might work, but they need something in the interim and if the plan itself doesn’t address that, it (dispensaries) will just start again.”

People have told him they feel comfortable and secure coming to his shop, knowing what they were buying.

“Our client base is mostly over 50 and a lot of them are disabled and that kind of thing, they’re some of the most vulnerable people out there and to put the product underground, they’re going to be getting ripped off on a regular basis,” said Laurio. “When we first opened we had some dear, sweet, little old lady come in and she bought herself an eighth of marijuana and when we handed it to her she looked at it and had never seen that much marijuana in a bag for that price before.

“Now, with this, it’s going to put them in the wrong place.”