A proposal has gone into Riverside Court strata council to allow a medical marijuana dispensary in the same building as the Okangan Falls public library. Image courtesy Google Maps

Okanagan Falls pot shop proposal causes concern

Concerns rising in rural areas about marijuana stores

A proposal for a medical marijuana dispensary in the same building as the Okanagan Falls library might go up in smoke, but the idea has brought forward concerns about how cannabis businesses are regulated.

A proposal was put to the Riverside Court strata council allow a medical marijuana dispensary on the building, according to Tom Siddon, director for Area D of the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen.

Word got out about the possibility of a dispensary in the 14-unit building along with an illegal medical marijuana dispensary opening in OK Falls about a month ago, he said, and the concept has people worried.

“A lot of people in Okanagan Falls are feeling very apprehensive and nervous that these things are just happening,” he said.

Within a day of Herbal Green Apothecary opening, Siddon said several people came into his office to complain about the business, which formerly operated in Penticton but moved because it couldn’t get a business licence.

“So we’re getting into in an unincorporated area, an issue where, unlike the corporate communities, we don’t have the ability to enforce bylaws and issue business licenses,” he said.

Phil Rathjen, president of Riverside Court strata, said the group is getting legal counsel on the matter. Prior to the proposal, they had not thought about a medical marijuana dispensary going into the building. Most owners rent out their units for short-term rentals in the summer.

Although there are some concerns about odour, structural and plumbing changes that might need to be undertaken to accommodate a medical marijuana dispensary, Rathjen said he’s not necessarily against that type of business, but wonders if it’s a good mix with rental properties and a public library less than 40 feet away.

“The important thing is to follow proper process. My opinion of medical marijuana dispensaries have nothing to do with it,” he said. “The difficulty is this: cities and towns have jurisdiction to regulate and have exercised that jurisdiction on these kinds of businesses.”

“Unfortunately, the regional district doesn’t have the kind of teeth that a town or city does.”

Paul Thompson, owner of the commercial space for rent in Riverside Court, said work started to renovate the commercial spaces, but last week, the RDOS stopped work at the building pending proper permits.

Thompson has owned the commercial units for 11 years and said the recession in 2008 made finding viable renters difficult. This is his first attempt at renting the units.

“At this point, it might be a medical marijuana place if the condo association allows it or it may be a doctor’s office or a lawyer’s office. There’s much more potential to rent it than there was five years ago,” he said.

Regional district directors heard last week that they might be getting some kind of control on where medical marijuana dispensaries can be located.

Although legislation has yet to be passed, B.C. has put forward a Cannabis Private Licensing Guide. The guide states local governments will have the ability to approve, or not, each cannabis licence application and can put in place setbacks and distances from other uses through zoning. Under the guidelines, local governments can also control the number of retail outlets in their area, regulate locations and refuse to support applications of existing unlawful outlets.

The regional district is expected to see several talking papers on the issue of cannabis sales and use and put in place a number of new policies.

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