Pot shops targeted despite looming legalization

Business licenses being pulled, yet no enforcement in Vernon

Marijuana will be legal in less than 10 months, yet in the meantime, pot shops are being stripped of their license to sell.

Several municipalities in the Okanagan are cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries by cancelling their business licenses.

In Vernon, existing business licenses were not renewed earlier this year, and now West Kelowna is pulling licenses.

See story: West Kelowna cancels business license for two pot shops and West Kelowna targetting more pot shops.

That’s left stores such as Black Crow Herbal Solutions wondering, “why now?”

“It doesn’t make any sense to me because I’ve been operating now for three years,” said Robert Jaenicke, a director of Black Crow, which has a shop in Vernon and West Kelowna.

But the fact that such stores are selling an illegal product, and now without a business license, doesn’t mean they will be closing their doors.

“Unfortunately the municipality is not the one that governs the rules,” explains Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund.

It’s the RCMP that would normally be responsible for these illegal businesses selling, what are still illegal, drugs.

“I’m pretty sure they’ve been told across the country to leave it alone,” suggests Mund. “Otherwise they’d be cracking down.”

Since no one has come crashing into either of his Okanagan shops, Jaenicke figures the same.

“The RCMP has taken a hands-off approach,” said Jaenicke, as the police aren’t getting much support from crown counsel. “If people are operating responsibly it looks to me like they’re going to leave it alone. They’re not wasting time and money going after us when no harm is being done.”

So when asked why bother revoking these business licenses now, Mayor Mund said it was because they initially applied as compassionate health and wellness clubs. And now that the city is aware of what is being sold, the licenses have not been renewed.

The same goes for West Kelowna, where Black Crow and the Healing Company asked council to defer its decision until the provincial government had announced its distribution plan for the legalization of marijuana.

The federal government has said it will be legalizing marijuana July 1, 2018.

But Mund points out that the provinces will have until July 1, 2019 to make their rules. And Ontario has plans to sell pot through the Liquor Control Board, which he suggests could be the case Canada-wide.

“I think what you’ll see all across Canada will run the same,” said Mund, who attended the cannabis seminar at UBCM where panellists said B.C. would probably follow Ontario’s lead. “It has to be the same, otherwise it won’t work.”

But what municipalities can do is set up some regulations, such as not having such pot shops within 500 metres of a school, or within each other pot shops, or certain areas of town.

And that’s exactly what Jaenicke suggests, as the influx of pot shops on almost every corner isn’t good for his business either.

“There were three or four of us in town who actually went through the process of talking to the city,” said Jaenicke, who has been running the store in Vernon for three-and-a-half years now.

Now that there are at least half a dozen in town, Vernon, and other municipalities are getting anxious.

See story: Growth in pot shop numbers sparks concern

“It’s just crazy,” said Jaenicke of the growth in pot shop storefronts. “Now the city is rightfully upset.”

Meanwhile UBCO researchers are urging policy makers not to alter a cannabis distribution system that—while not legal yet—works well.

See story: UBCO recommends letting illegal pot shops stay open.

Associate professor Zach Walsh, who teaches psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, and PhD candidate Rielle Capler, recently published a study on medicinal cannabis dispensaries and determined customers prefer the independent storefront as opposed to growing their own, or getting it from a dealer. Their research suggests that when recreational marijuana use becomes legal in 2018, the current system of dispensaries should remain.

Capler calls the current method a ‘natural experiment’ that’s been underway for decades and says law makers should this keep in mind when addressing regulation policies.

“Dispensaries are not new and they provide a proven, valuable service,” she said. “While some are thought of as a nuisance, in reality many of these dispensaries are small, independent, long-standing businesses who serve a dedicated clientele.”

Mund would not state his position on marijuana, but did say: “Do I believe it will have issues? Yes. Do I believe it will be the same incidence as alcohol? No. Alcohol causes a lot more death and a lot more issues than marijuana does.”


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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