UPDATED: Penticton shuts down two more marijuana dispensaries, at least for now

Penticton city council still isn't ready to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within the city limits.

Zach Walsh

Zach Walsh

It is going to be some time before Penticton brings in bylaws dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries, if ever.

On July 19, when they turned down Jukka Laurio’s appeal of his business licence suspension for selling medical marijuana, council also gave staff 60 days to come back with options for regulations.

“The intent is we are going to bring something back in that 60 day window, whether it is a request for more time, whether it is a layout of principles that we want to move forward with or whether it is an actual bylaw for council to consider,” said planning manager Blake Laven. “We don’t know exactly what is going to be reported back, but there is going to be a report.”

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said council would then decide what they would take to the public for comments from that report, before deciding how to proceed, or back away entirely. In the meantime, council voted to cancel business licences for Green Essence and Avitas Pharmaco, who both had their licences suspended in July because investigations by city staff suggested that the sale of marijuana (cannabis) was taking place on the premises.

During a special public hearing where council heard appeals from Avitas Pharmaco owner Robert Kay and Green Essence owner Melissa Oslowy, almost all the councillors expressed sympathy for those needing medical marijuana for their conditions, but said they needed to follow existing business licence policy.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit also said it is not within city council’s jurisdiction to choose what part of federal bylaws to uphold, acknowledging that the city cannot issue a business licence for an activity contravening federal law. He did, however, recognized that many communities are dealing with a lack of involvement in the issue by the federal government.

Coun. Tarik Sayeed spoke strongly against cancelling the licences.

“It is illegal because we are keeping it illegal,” said Sayeed, likening the struggle to those around abortion rights and gay marriage.

Oslowy said they resisted opening a dispensary for years before choosing to enlarge their operation earlier this year. She said the response from the community has been enthusiastic.

“By denying us a business licence, thousands of our registered customers that desperately need their medicine will be forced back into the streets at the mercy of drug dealers and traffickers,” said Oslowy. “Please allow us to continue supporting our clients until you have finished your 60-day review.”

Kay also asked that the city offer him a temporary operating permit until the city puts into place a bylaw that will allow distributors to operate  without feeling like they are criminals.

“I have been working in the cannabis industry for about 15 years as a grower and a medical cannabis user,” said Kay, who listed several other certificates he holds related to the cannabis industry. He also has two other operations in Vernon and Kelowna.

“I operate two other compassion clubs, and I need to be specific that it is not dispensaries, they are compassion clubs,” said Kay, noting that he has business licences in both cities as private clubs.

“It is not about smoking weed and getting high. If it was, I probably wouldn’t be here either,” said Kay. “This, for us, is about providing safe access. Harm reduction, it’s key.”

Kay estimates there are about 17,000 medical marijuana users in the Okanagan, and says he serves 7,500 in Kelowna on a regular basis.

Kay offered his expertise to council to help develop appropriate regulations.

“We want to be part of that regulation and change. We can offer that to council,” said Kay. “It is imperative to have a regulation put in place. Everything from a criminal record check to age limits. It is something I feel we do extremely well. There has to be something in place that is fair for everybody.”

Coun. Campbell Watt comments reflected the feelings of council.

“I have such a struggle here. I know of people that have benefited from medical cannabis,” said Watt, noting that the issue is not about the merits of medical marijuana, but the city’s ability to grant business licences under existing policy.

In both cases, council voted 5-2 to cancel the business licences for both businesses, with Sayeed and Jakubeit opposed.

Coun. Andre Martin asked that Oslowy be patient and wait for the changes before moving her business out of the community.

“I think there are changes coming down the pipe,” said Martin.

Laurio, whose business licence was cancelled  July 19,  said he remains open for business.

“I’ve even extended the hours,” said Laurio. “I have three tickets now. The last one was $500.”

The fines issued by the city aren’t likely to prevent Laurio from continuing to sell medicinal marijuana.

“There is enough people here supporting the shop. It is their nickles and dimes that are paying the tickets,” said Laurio, who hasn’t given up on the possibility of regaining his business licence.

“There is still a long ways to go before it is over. I have plans in the works, but we will wait to see what comes from this.”

Laurio joked that he is willing to pay far more than the regular $175 business licence fee, but denied rumours he had paid $10,000 to city hall.

“If I could get my business licence, I would give them $20 grand,” said Laurio. “I’ve made a number of donations throughout the city … the museum, the art gallery, I donated to the fireworks. I’ve never actually given any to city council.”