The grey legal world that is distributing medical marijuana through storefront dispensaries has arrived in the Town of Osoyoos.
Osoyoos RCMP, after visiting with Osoyoos Town Council on Monday, have informed a local non-profit society it will not be returning about $1,100 in marijuana turned over to RCMP in March following an attempted break-in March 15.
And a second shop that had designs on opening n Cottonwood Plaza was yesterday saddled with a Stop Work order.
The Numbered Club, a non-profit society that provides medical marijuana to Osoyoos and area residents through a Main Street dispensary, was asked by RCMP in late March to voluntarily cease operations.
The society had quietly delivered medical marijuana products since November 2015 to about 150 members — most over the age of 50 and living in Osoyoos.
However, the attempted break-in March 15 changed all that.
The break-in brought the dispensary to the attention of local RCMP and the Town of Osoyoos. Both wanted to answer questions about the legality of the society’s purpose and operation — and licensing — before allowing the dispensary to resume operations.
“Our members are mostly seniors who have never smoked marijuana and are not recreational drug users,” explained Nixon Zaye, the society’s president, back in March.
“We have the ability to help these people with a variety of products that have the medicinal properties they need, without the psychoactive high that dry herb gives.”
Fair enough, say local RCMP, but selling marijuana — in any form — is illegal in Canada.
“We have spoken to them and explained to them there’s nothing we can do,” said Cpl. Jason Bayda. “Regardless of what happens, they’re still breaking the laws in Canada if they were to start selling marijuana.”
Back in March, Sgt. Randy Bosch, the detachment’s commander, called the dispensing of medical marijuana “a gray area,” and wanted to consult with his superiors, Crown Counsel and Town of Osoyoos Council before making a determination about what to do.
His position now is similar to what it was back in March.
“If the Town or the municipality that approves it gives them a license for it, the local police would honour the change in the by-law” he said.
“In this case, that wasn’t done and the bottom line is selling marijuana is illegal.”
Mayor Sue McKortoff says neither the Numbered Club or the Main Street business that is hosting the club, has applied for a business license to sell medical marijuana.
“We’ve had nobody come and ask us,” she said. “So, of course we’re not going to get involved. Nobody has ever approached us.”
She added Council has left the matter in the RCMP’s hands.
“It’s the RCMP’s job to deal with that. We leave it up to them.”
The society had delivered a letter to the Town of Osoyoos asking it to review its current bylaw and provide a mechanism for the society and its dispensary to continue to operate.
But Ms Zaye admitted no effort had been made to seek a business license specific to the purpose of selling medical marijuana, nor was any effort made to take a delegation to Council.
She is disappointed, however, RCMP has confiscated product the Numbered Club voluntarily turned over to police.
“We were told we would get an inventory, but we haven’t even received that,” she said. “We don’t even know if we have a case number for the break-in.”
Meanwhile, the Town is now involved in an attempt by a second dispensary to set up shop in the community.
A Stop Work Order was posted at Unit 5, 6511 Main Street — in the Cottonwood Plaza — but not because it was determined the proprietors were planning to open a medical marijuana dispensary at that location.
“The stop work order relates to the work that’s going on inside the unit. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether it’s a marijuana dispensary or not,” said Neil Pagett, the Town’s senior building inspector.
“They need a building permit to alter the interior of the premises and approval from the owner in writing, which we don’t have.”
Mr. Pagett also said the second shop has not applied for a business license, the rationale supplied by the shop that they don’t need one because it is not-for-profit undertaking.
“There’s a vague reference in our bylaw that relates to not-for-profit,” explained Mr. Pagett.
“We don’t charge a business license for a church or a fundraising group, or that kind of thing and that’s what that legislation is in place for.”
The Town is seeking a legal opinion on the marijuana dispensary’s position.
The Cottonwood location is a Star Bud Cannabis franchise owned by Grant Bruce, a logger by trade who has lived in Osoyoos for about a year.
Mr. Bruce says he suffers from an epileptic disorder and requires daily does of medicinal marijuana to lead an ordinary life.
“If I do not have access to medical marijuana, I have grand mal and petit mal seizures,” he said. “With the use of medical marijuana, it stops.”
He said he has an obligation to share his story with others and took the next logical step, wanting to help others as well.
“I wanted to be an advocate for this whole scene because I feel as though I can enlighten people who have a dead-set opinion that this is just a drug and we’re just a bunch of deadbeats.,” he said.
“We’re not. We have medical doctors on staff. We are part of a franchise that has nine stores operating in Southern Canada.”
The licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries is a conundrum municipalities across British Columbia are struggling to resolve.
Last September, Union of British Columbia Municipalities delegates voted to assert their authority to regulate marijuana dispensaries through business licensing.
Vancouver was the first city in Canada to approve regulation of its marijuana dispensaries. It requires a $30,000 license fee and a dispensary to locate a minimum 300 metres from schools, community centres and each other.
Since then, West Kelowna and Kimberley have issued licenses to medical marijuana businesses.
“Port Alberni was the second to implement dispensary specific licensing, and both Victoria and Nanaimo staff are currently working on dispensary regulations,” said Jamie Shaw, interim president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
“Squamish and Sechelt have both been looking the issue closely as well, and cities like Burnaby have said they’re going watch the Vancouver process before deciding.”
Closer to home, a number of medical marijuana dispensaries operate in Penticton, largely undisturbed, Ms. Zaye claims.
But Sgt. Bosch, although reluctant to comment on action that is being or might be taken, said that wasn’t true.
“Penticton is aware and they are monitoring closely,” he said.