Crackdown on Penticton marijuana shops moving forward

The City of Penticton is moving ahead with a crackdown on storefront marijuana shops setting up in the community.

Jukka Laurio in front of his Westminster Avenue café

Jukka Laurio in front of his Westminster Avenue café

The City of Penticton is moving ahead with a crackdown on storefront marijuana shops setting up in the community.

The Herbal Green Apothecary, associated with the Rush in and Finnish Café, was the first operation served with a notice of suspension on their business licence, and on June 29, Starbuds was also given a notice.

“We do know of three other ones, so those will be issued with warnings, probably within the week as well. From warning, we go to suspension and then we go to injunctive action,” said Tina Lee, communications officer for the City of Penticton.

Ken Kunka, the city’s building and permitting manager, said Starbuds is operating as a non-profit society, and had the mistaken impression that a society didn’t need a business licence. When Starbuds applied for a business licence, Kunka said, it was denied because it is not a permitted use under the city’s zoning bylaws. They have been issued a no occupancy notice, meaning the store is supposed to be completely closed to the public.

Kunka said two other operations selling marijuana are going to be put on notice Monday, and notified they have seven days to stop the illegal portions of their operations.

Jukka Laurio’s (owner of Rush in and Finnish Café) case is a little different, according to Kunka, since he was already operating the café legally and only began selling marijuana there after being unable to set up a separate operation next door.

“When his coffee shop licence came up for renewal, that’s when we sent him a notice saying we would not support the renewal and we would be looking at suspending his licence if he continued to sell the marijuana products,” said Kunka. “He continued on and that came in to full suspension of his business licence.”

The date hasn’t been set, but Laurio will have a chance to appeal to city council at a special public hearing, which is expected to occur sometime in the next two weeks.

“I look forward to addressing council and showing how this serves a community need,” said Laurio, noting that seniors comprise a large part of his clientele.

“I was actually surprised by how many there are and the age. My average customer age is about 60. We don’t even serve under 25,” said Laurio.

Canada sits at a crossroads, with the federal government promising legalization of marijuana at an undetermined future date, but in the meantime, current laws remain in force.

“In Canada, storefront sale of marijuana is not legal, it is only legal by mail, so we can’t issue a business licence for something that is contradictory to Canadian laws,” said Lee. Even when it is legalized, the city will still need to develop zoning and bylaws to deal with the shops.

Lee said the city is working in the background to prepare for eventual changes.

“I think a lot of cities are struggling with this right now,” said Lee. “I think everyone is expecting federal legislation to change, but until it does change, the city is really bound by what the current laws are.”

Laurio said shops like his are filling a need and a Supreme Court requirement the public have access to medicinal marijuana.

“They need access, there was no distribution system, the people stepped in and set up a distribution system,” said Laurio. “There are legal parties on both sides of this and you are sort of in the middle, trying to do people a favour more than anything else.

“I am sure there is much more action to be taken, but a frank discussion and some input from the public is all that is really required to get this issue settled.”

“The report we are preparing is not to debate your Canadian right to obtain medical marijuana,” said Kunka, who expects Laurio’s hearing to take place later in July. “We are just putting our report together to go to council. We want to make sure we do this right for both ourselves and our community.”