Penticton marijuana shop up in smoke for now

Penticton business owner Jukka Laurio made some passionate arguments that he should be allowed to continue selling pot.

City staff member Ken Kunka looks back at Jukka Laurio during his presentation to council about why his business licence should not be cancelled. At the end of the special hearing on the matter Tuesday council voted to cancel the licence. Mark Brett/Western News

City staff member Ken Kunka looks back at Jukka Laurio during his presentation to council about why his business licence should not be cancelled. At the end of the special hearing on the matter Tuesday council voted to cancel the licence. Mark Brett/Western News

Jukka Laurio made some passionate arguments that he should be allowed to continue selling marijuana when he appeared before Penticton city council Tuesday.

However passionate, Laurio failed to get the support of council for his business licence, with only Coun. Tarik Sayeed and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit voting not to suspend his licence. On the other hand, council did vote to have staff look into issues around setting up regulations regarding sales of medical marijuana over the recommendations of city staff.

“Because there is this proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries, perhaps we should be putting some regulations in place,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit. “If we can figure out a way to start getting ahead of the game, so it doesn’t become a free for all. I think we need to have some regulations in place and opportunities to enforce that are simple to enforce.”

Laurio explained that he believed in what he was doing, which he said is only selling medical marijuana. In April, a letter was hand delivered to Laurio advising that his business license could not be renewed, according to Ken Kunka, the city’s building and permitting manager. The reason, according to his report, was because investigations “suggested that the sale of marijuana was taking place in the premises.”

In fact, Laurio began openly selling medicinal marijuana about 15 months ago.

Kunka said while medicinal marijuana is legal for sale to qualified users, it is only available through the mail, and storefront sales remain illegal. (Read more here: Pot shops continue to operate in limbo)

“The city does not issue business licenses for unlawful or illegal business issues,” said Kunka, who noted that Laurio and his Rush in and Finnish Café are not authorized under federal regulations to grow or sell medical marijuana.

Along with the marijuana sales, Kunka said there is also concern about the effect of undesirable behaviour by Laurio’s customers on neighbours and the surrounding community, including parking and traffic problems.

Kunka was also concerned, that if the city doesn’t take action against Laurio and other business owners selling marijuana, it might be more difficult to take action against other non-conforming businesses.

“As the operation stands right now, whether a non-profit or a for-profit store, it is illegal in Canada,” said Kunka. “It should not be the municipalities place to make these regulations.”

Coun. Tarik Sayeed said if marijuana sales return to the street level, people can’t be held responsible for the product they are selling.

“This gives us an opportunity to be one step farther out. We should be the ones to regulate what Penticton needs,” said Sayeed.

Laurio said he works with legitimate suppliers, not people selling product out of the trunk of a car in a dark corner.

“We are trying to set an example for what it could be,” said Laurio, “I modeled the operation on a pharmacy, nobody can buy any product  without a consultation.

“Marijuana users under the age of 25? They are recreational users. We don’t want anything to do with them,” said Laurio. “We don’t publish THC values. We don’t tell you how high you are going to get. I don’t even allow my staff to use that word.”

Laurio said while governments at all levels debate issues around medical marijuana and how it is delivered, he is dealing with a legal medical product and trying to get it out there to the people that need it. Compassion clubs, he said, fulfill a needed role in society

“If there was a valid reason for them not existing the RCMP would have taken them out long ago,” said Laurio, who claims his public business reduces RCMP workload.

“Whether we cancel it or not, it will still happen. The reality is he will still do his business whether we cancel the business licence or not,” said Sayeed.

“Part of me wants to return to selling marijuana on the black market,” said Laurio, who admits to selling marijuana for 45 years.

He explained that he didn’t understand the need or how busy he would be.

“We serve over 100 people a day,” said Laurio in response to Coun. Andre Martin. “Our biggest day, we served 350 people in  a nine-hour period.”

In the end, it came down to councillors making the argument that while the city should look more into the issue of marijuana sales, the issue was really over whether Laurio was meeting the city’s business licence regulations. Sayeed argued that city staff should come back with options on licensing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries within 60 days.

“If we don’t do anything, it will happen anyway. And we can’t turn a blind eye to it,” said Sayeed.

The resolution passed with Couns. Campbell Watt, Max Picton and Judy Sentes in opposition.