A lineup of cannabis strands shows some of the variety offered up at Jukka Laurio’s Herbal Green Apothecary — the focal point of a legal struggle between Laurio and the City of Penticton. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

City of Penticton, dispensary taking battle to court

Herbal Green Apothecary was one of five proposed dispensaries nixed by Penticton council in December

The City of Penticton and Jukka Laurio, the owner of an unsanctioned dispensary, are set to square off in court next month, which could put to rest the city’s efforts to control the flow of grey-area medical marijuana in Penticton.

The city filed its petition on April 24, according to court documents, but according to Laurio the two parties have a court date set for July.

Related: Penticton heading to court to close marijuana dispensary

“They don’t like me. We don’t get along. Plain and simple. Doesn’t matter what I do, it’s wrong,” Laurio said, noting that the city had also contacted his landlord.

Asked what his landlord thought of the issue, Laurio insisted the landlord didn’t have much input.

“I’ve already been here for four years. I’ve got a lease in place. Nothing’s changed,” Laurio said, adding that any eviction would take months.

In its court filings, the city noted that, by operating without a business licence, Laurio was in conflict with the Business Licence Bylaw, which holds that a business operating in the city “must first hold a valid and subsisting business licence issued by the city.”

The city argues that Laurio is operating, as well as advertising and promoting the business without a business licence.

The city also points to a trio of B.C. Supreme Court decisions, including one earlier this year, in which the courts decided that the City of Abbotsford had the right to impose its own regulations and fines on marijuana dispensaries — seen by cities as a blanket ruling for the rights of cities in general.

In that case, Abbotsford City Hall refused to give permits to a pair of dispensaries, which the Supreme Court decided was within the city’s rights. The court also similarly ruled on the side of the City of Abbotsford and Delta in separate 2016 cases.

Laurio’s response merely pointed to his own filing of a judicial review petition on Saturday in the Kelowna court registry.

“If the respondent is successful in his judicial review petition, then the respondent will be issued a business licence and temporary use permit to operate a marijuana dispensary,” Laurio’s response reads.

In a judicial review, a Supreme Court judge reviews a previous decision by an administrative tribunal or an administrative decision maker. It’s not clear, at this point, exactly what Laurio intends to dispute in that case.

While illegal, dispensaries are often considered a grey area due to hesitation by many police forces to enforce the rules, as the federal government prepares to legalize cannabis for recreational uses by Canada Day 2018.

Laurio’s business licence was first revoked last summer, when he operated the dispensary out of the Rush in and Finish Cafe. After appearing before council in mid-July, he was again denied his business licence, but councillors also directed staff to lay the grounds for the city to work with dispensaries, still operating in a legal grey area in Canada.

Council ultimately approved two temporary use permits for a pair of businesses — the Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy across the street from Laurio’s businesses and Green Essence — while denying five others, including Laurio, who by then operated the business out of a separate storefront in the same building as the Rush in and Finish Cafe, under the name Herbal Green Apothecary.

At the time, Laurio said he had been blindsided by council’s decision, as he’d been led to believe that if he followed their guidelines, he would be given the permit — though council’s decision rested on the fact that he had remained open during the deliberations, which the city forbade.

Since the decision, Herbal Green has remained open, save for a short time in April, after the RCMP put out letters to dispensaries, which appeared to threaten police action, which has yet to materialize.

“They’re not really too interested in it. It’s gone into the realm of politics more than anything else. I’m sure if there was some kind of public safety concern, they would involve themselves,” Laurio said.

“As long as there’s no public safety concern, I think they’re just sort of watching.”

The city is looking to have Laurio’s business shut down once and for all, as well as for legal costs, which Laurio’s response did dispute.

“The respondent has a legitimate right to consider that he is entitled to a business licence and temporary use permit to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Penticton,” Laurio’s response reads.

“As such, this is not a proceeding where special costs are appropriate in the event the respondent is unsuccessful.”

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