City of Penticton to investigate pot shop regulation options

It’s likely to be a while yet before Penticton city council decides how to deal with storefront medical marijuana dispensaries.

JoAnn Murphy was one of the attendees at a rally in Penticton's Gyro Park in support of storefront medical marijuana dispensaries. The issue returns to city council on Sept. 6.

JoAnn Murphy was one of the attendees at a rally in Penticton's Gyro Park in support of storefront medical marijuana dispensaries. The issue returns to city council on Sept. 6.

It’s likely to be a while yet before Penticton city council decides how to deal with storefront medical marijuana dispensaries.

After hearing a detailed presentation from city staff at a Sept. 6 committee of the whole meeting, council voted 5-2 to have staff pursue options to regulate storefront dispensaries in the city.

Planning manager Blake Laven characterized the three options in the his report as Hard Line, Accommodation and Complicity.

Hard Line would see city bylaws strengthened with language prohibiting storefront sales of marijuana, to be revisited once new federal rules are in place. That option also includes escalating enforcement against non-compliant businesses, including targeting the property owners as well as the business owners.

The second option would make room for medical marijuana dispensaries under strict zoning and bylaw regulations, with a one-time licensing fee of $5,000 and a yearly renewal fee of $2,500. The base fee for a regular business licence is $175.

Four councillors made their preference for accommodation known: Couns. Tarik Sayeed, Andre Martin, Judy Sentes and Max Picton, though with reservations.

“I am leaning towards option 2, putting some regulations in place,” said Picton, who was concerned that if the city followed that route they might still not be able to enforce the rules if sellers refused to co-operate.

“It feels to me like our current situation lacks teeth.”

Coun. Campbell Watt was adamant that the city should continue to prohibit storefront dispensaries until federal and provincial regulations are in place.

“I think this is too big a risk. I think public engagement should happen long before,” said Coun. Campbell Watt, who wanted to follow the Hard Line (option). “I do believe a law is a law.”

Coun. Helena Konanz was the only other councillor opposed to investigating accommodation.

“I think we are putting the cart before the horse,” said Konanz. “It has been illegal for almost 100 years. We could probably wait a few months or a year for the federal government to give us direction.”

With council’s direction, Laven said city staff will now begin the process of public consultation and bring a more refined version of the second option back to council for consideration. That process, however, could still take until November before new regulations are in place, if that is council’s decision.

“Those changes wouldn’t happen for at least three months,” said Laven, who suggested there could be an enforcement moratorium in place for existing operation while work on new bylaws are underway.

Over the summer, the City of Penticton took action against four medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city, while also directing city staff to look into options for regulating them. There was a small, quiet rally in Penticton’s Gyro Park Sunday afternoon in support of letting the medical marijuana dispensaries operate in the city.

Jo Scofield, helped get the word out about the gathering.

“It took off online, so I decided to put some information together and come down and see what happens.”

JoAnn Murphy, the only person to have brought a sign to the Sunday rally (“Defend Dispensaries”) considers herself a veteran of the cannabis movement. She also attended a rally in Kelowna after a dispensary operating there was raided, and collected signatures for a referendum.

“The whole plant has great meaning to me, and it includes the environment, it is not all about the smoking of the pot,” said Murphy.

Scofield said it is about equality of access to medical care.

“It is just a different choice. There is no reason that somebody, like myself, should be forced to choose a list of side effects that they decide is more acceptable as opposed to what I think is more acceptable for my life.”