A non-profit society that provides medical marijuana to Osoyoos and area residents through a local dispensary is out of service at least temporarily after a request from Osoyoos RCMP to voluntarily cease operations earlier this month.
The society, known informally as the Numbered Club, is now looking for a business licence from the Town of Osoyoos to continue operations out of its Main Street location.
“Our members are mostly seniors who have never smoked marijuana and are not recreational drug users,” explained Nixon Zaye, the society’s president, adding the club includes more than 150 members, most over the age of 50 and living in Osoyoos and neighbouring communities.
“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.”
Ms. Zaye and her partner, Kyle Hauptman, have delivered the products through their Main Street business location to society members since November 2015. Everything was fine until they reported an attempted break-in March 15.
That 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.
“It’s a grey area,” said Sgt. Randy Bosch, who leads local policing efforts as unit commander at the RCMP’s Osoyoos detachment.
“If the Town or the municipality that [a dispensary is in] approves it or gives them a license for it, the local police would honour the change in the by-law.
“In this case, that wasn’t done and the bottom line is selling marijuana is illegal.”
On the other hand, Sgt. Bosch says, the Numbered Club is “doing all the right things to sell it strictly for medical purposes.”
“There’s definitely no ties to organized crime,” he said. “They appear to be genuinely trying to help people who are in need of marijuana.”
At the Town of Osoyoos, it’s Neil Pagett’s responsibility to investigate and prepare a report to Council on options it has for resolving the issue, something he wants to do while working with local RCMP.
Right now, Osoyoos does not have a licensing provision for medical marijuana, the senior building inspector said, and wasn’t provided an opportunity to explore an exception when the dispensary quietly opened for business last fall.
“Maybe we could have taken these steps then,” he said. “But they didn’t tell us when they applied for a business licence. They probably thought we would just say no.”
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 licence 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.”
Ms. Zaye says she wants similar consideration for the Numbered Club in Osoyoos.
“All over B.C., towns and cities are overriding their own bylaws, issuing licenses, and welcoming dispensaries,” said Ms. Zaye. “We are asking for Osoyoos to do the same for this community.
The society has 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.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Town, as well as RCMP in being transparent about what we do. We have nothing to hide in what we are doing, and only want to be able to continue offering our services.”
In the meantime, the club’s 150 members remain in limbo.
“As of current, we are having to tell our clients, many who have medical doctors’ forms acknowledging they are purchasing from our Society, and others holding federal medical marijuana cards, that they cannot do so.”