Despite not getting a permit from the City of Penticton, Jukka Laurio said he is not going to stop selling medicinal marijuana.
In fact, he is planning to take the city to court for not including him with the two other operators they chose to issue temporary use permits to.
Laurio wasn’t present at the Dec. 6 meeting where city council decided which of the seven applicants would get a permit to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Penticton.
“Everything is already in place. I didn’t think there was any more to add to the argument,” said Laurio, explaining that he had been working with the city to satisfy the terms and conditions they were developing.
Councillors swayed back and forth on the issue, eventually settling on criteria suggested by Coun. Max Picton: that the applicant not be a new operation and that they had shown good faith in abiding by city directives since the city suspended the business licenses of the four dispensaries already operating.
Laurio said that should have included him.
“I paid $13,000 in fines. We have been working hard,” said Laurio, who continued selling marijuana despite the business license suspension. “I’ve been going beyond satisfying the terms and conditions they want.”
“I am going to challenge their tactics and methods and their breach of promise,” said Laurio. “If i can establish that I maintain the same standard or higher than the rest of them, then I can’t really be denied.”
City council sees their interaction with Laurio differently.
“I think this is one that we may want to be firm on in terms of fines or injunctive action,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit. “This was really the one who has been quite blatant in the media to say ‘I don’t care what you say, city, I am still operating so come get me.’ I am paraphrasing, but now it is in front of council.”
The vote to deny Laurio a permit was unanimous.
Laurio’s application was the third of the seven applications discussed by council, but it was the first, from Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy (formerly Starbudz) that revealed council’s uncertainty. Coun. Campbell Watt questioned whether they want to issue temporary use licenses in the first place.
“I am going to be opposed to this until it is legal,” said Watt, explaining that he understood the need for medical marijuana and supported it, but storefront sales of the drug remained illegal.
Watt was supported by Coun. Helena Konanz, who said she wasn’t qualified to judge whether or not an operator should get a permit, and that council had no way to know whether a dispensary was supplying quality products.
“I need to wait and see because I can’t make that decision myself,” said Konanz, who remained in opposition to the permits, as did Watt.
Kevin Adams, owner of Cannabinoid Therapy, told council they were following rules.
“An adult needs to provide us with proper medical documentation. We opened on May 14, our business model has approved monthly,” said Adams, who also received support from Elaine Nuessler, a Summerland grandmother who founded Kyla’s Quest.
She spoke of how cannabis had helped her granddaughter, who has a rare form of epilepsy that caused as many as 200 seizures a day.
“Without cannabis, Kyla wouldn’t be with us today,” said Nuessler, who endorsed Adams’ operation, explaining that they provided a range of lab-tested products.
When it came to a vote to approve a six-month temporary use permit, it failed with a 3-3 vote: Jakubeit, Couns. Andre Martin and Max Picton in favour, and Konanz, Watt and Coun. Judy Sentes opposed — Coun. Tarik Sayeed was not present. A later motion to defer any further work until federal legislation or guidance was handed down also failed, prompting Sentes to change her position.
Sentes initially said she felt compelled, against her desires, to vote against the permits because of the uncertainties involved.
Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy became the first to receive a permit, with Sentes’ vote switch breaking the tie. But before council got to that point, there was considerable discussion about the difficulties.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit admitted that it is difficult to choose or qualify the operators and that he had misgivings. Jakubeit also referenced an interview where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said marijuana sales remain illegal and he expects the laws to be enforced.
“The flip side of it is they are not giving the RCMP any sort of backup to do the enforcement. We are sort of in an awkward position,” said Jakubeit.
Watt clarified his position that he doesn’t oppose medical marijuana, but is concerned about giving an advantage to businesses that opened before it was legal, and wanted to wait until direction comes from the federal government.
“I am not going to be able to support any illegal business in Penticton,” said Konanz, again supporting Watt’s position.
Martin argued that bigger cities were finding ways to make it work, and Penticton should do likewise.
“By doing nothing, I don’t think is solving the issue,” said Martin. “I haven’t heard that many complaints personally.”
Jakubeit pointed out that not taking action still left the city with a problem.
“Are we for the next six months going to continue to turn a blind eye, or turn to injunctive engagement?” said Jakubeit.
After approving OCT’s permit, council moved through the other applications quickly, also approving the application from Green Essence, operating on Martin Street. Avitas Pharmaco, which had followed previous council direction, was turned down, primarily due to their proximity to a school.
By adopting regulations under temporary use permits, Penticton stepped ahead of other Okanagan communities dealing with this issue, particularly Kelowna and Vernon, which have so far either taken a wait and see approach.