Penticton gives the nod to marijuana dispensaries

The City of Penticton approved two of seven applications for permits to open storefront medical marijuana dispensaries.

Kevin Adams

After months of discussion, both in the community and at the council table, the issue of marijuana dispensaries was still a problem for council to come to a decision on, but ended up approving two operations.

The City of Penticton received seven applications from groups wanting to operate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Council decided to review all seven applications at their Dec. 6 meeting, but after hearing the first one, Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy (351 Westminster Ave. West) councillors remained divided the best way to proceed.

Coun. Campbell Watt questioned whether council shouldn’t be deciding 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 should have done her homework and wasn’t qualified to judge whether or not an operator should get a permit. Homework, she explained, would have required her to go into each of the shops that are still operating — despite having their business licenses suspended over the summer — and trying their product to see if it made her ill.

“That is the only way I can make a judgment on every single one of these separately,” said Konanz. “I need to wait and see because I can’t make that decision myself.”

The first try to approve a six-month temporary use permit, in this case for Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy, failed with a 3-3 vote: Jakubeit, Couns. Andre Martin and Max Picton in favor, 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 chose to support a second motion from Coun. Max Picton, that OCT should be given a six-month temporary use permit. Picton also made it clear he only wanted to support operators who had proven they were willing to co-operate with the city.

OCT 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.

But, Jakubeit continued, the federal government and the RCMP are not following through.

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.

Other Okanagan communities are dealing with this issue, particularly Kelowna and Vernon, but with these approvals, Penticton becomes the first community to adopt a regulated approach.