Marijuana legalization advocate Mark Conden addresses Kelowna city council during Tuesday’s public hearing on allowing store-front retail sales of the drug in the city.-Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna city council keeps pot shops illegal

Council refuses to allow store-front retail sales of recreational marijuana in the city.

Kelowna city council has voted to maintain the status quo and not allow store-front retail sales of marijuana in the city.

Following a public hearing Tuesday night, where several people urged council to change its current stance which prohibits the store-front retail sale of recreational marijuana because doing so is currently illegal in Canada, council made its decision to “clarify” its position.

The decision does not affect medicinal marijuana which is legally available via online sales from licensed producers (with a permit from a doctor), council was told.

Mayor Colin Basran said the city will wait for the federal and provincial governments to act before looking at changing its rules. He said he does not want to burden taxpayers with the possible cost of shutting down illegal dispensaries if the law is not changed when federal legislation kicks in next year.

The federal government has announced it will legalize marijuana for personal use as of next year but the exact rules of how that will be done are not yet known.

Despite the illegality of retail dispensaries, there are currently nine operating in the city, according to Robert Kay, operator of Kelowna’s only “compassion club,” which provides medicinal marijuana. None have a business licence from the city.

Basran said after the public hearing, council will not direct the RCMP to shut down dispensaries in the city but expects the police to deal with them in light of the existing law ad as per policing priorities.

At the public hearing, Kay, who runs Be Kind, which operates the Okanagan Compassion Club, said council’s decision will affect access to marijuana used for medicinal purposes for some people. He said not everyone who needs marijuana can get it online or get the required doctor’s approval to buy it legally. One man told council an estimated 80 per cent of doctors in Canada are unwilling to approve medicinal marijuana for their patients.

Kay, whose club has 8,500 members, said he is looking at retail, store-front selling of marijuana. But he also told council he would shut down any such operation if ordered to do so, a stance that drew praise from council. Basran said he did not believe all dispensary operators would be willing to do that and it will likely be up to the city to shut them down, through court action, in future if the federal and provincial governments keep them illegal under the planned new federal legislation.

After the public hearing, Kay told the Capital News he would be guided by the wishes of his members when it comes to store front selling in light of council’s decision. He said he would only sell to adults 19 years of age and older.

In supporting the decision to not allow store-front retail selling of marijuana in the city, every councillor noted it is currently illegal under federal law and until Ottawa changes that position, they are in favour of reflecting that through municipal land-use bylaws.

Tuesday night’s public hearing drew a smaller crowd than expected crowd – about 60 people (though some were there for other issues on the public hearing agenda) – including an eight-member camera crew from the History Channel, which is making a documentary on the current state of marijuana laws in Canada.

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