The issue of cannabis dispensaries is going to be back before Penticton city council at their July 4 meeting.
City staff are recommending council deny extensions to the two temporary use permits issued in December 2016 to Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy on Westminster Avenue and Green Essence on Martin Street.
According to planning manager Blake Laven’s report, the two businesses “have been operating relatively without incident for the past six months.” But the report goes on to detail how the situation has changed since the TUPs were issued in December, including a March letter to both businesses warning of the ramifications of selling marijuana, in contravention of the controlled drugs and substances act, or the medical cannabis regulations.
City council and staff spent more than half a year debating the issue of marijuana dispensaries, and eventually settled on temporary use permits as a solution until the federal government moved ahead on promised legalization legislation. Only two of seven applicants were granted permits, though a third, Herbal Greens, continues to operate in contravention.
The picture regarding legalization of marijuana at the federal level has also cleared up, and though July 2018 is the goal for legalization, Laven’s report says that is unlikely.
“The legal opinion the city obtained with regard to this issue suggest that the deadline is ‘overly optimistic,'” reads the report.
B.C. courts have also clarified laws around cannabis dispensaries and business licences. In an Abbotsford case, a justice ruled the city had jurisdiction to refuse a business licence on the basis of the dispensary not being lawful.
Penticton has also taken steps to limit any potential dispensaries, with a zoning bylaw defining cannabis dispensary, and forbidding them in any zone. With that in place, even after legalization, any dispensary wishing to operate in the city would have to request a zoning amendment, triggering public consultation and neighbourhood notification.
“Staff can now confidently say that the dispensaries are in direct conflict with federal enactment and thus do not meet the guidelines for temporary use permit approval,” said Laven in the report. Though the two businesses given TUPs in December have followed all the conditions, the report says given the court decisions, liability and possible exposure, council should not extend the permits.
“Further extending the permits would also legitimize the illegal distribution of cannabis contrary to federal criminal law. Staff consider this contrary to the best interests of the city,” the report concludes. It also notes the city will be liable if someone were harmed by cannabis purchased at a dispensary licensed by the city.
The city has collected over $33,000 in fines from non-compliant businesses and is in the process of collecting about $30,000 more. Added to that is $5,000 in business licence fees from the two permitted dispensaries and $10,000 more, should the permits be extended.
To date, the city has spent over $10,000 in legal fees and staff labour dealing with the marijuana dispensary issue.