4. Pot shop saga continues

Castanet Penticton is counting down the five biggest stories of 2017. They are being determined by a combination of web-traffic, public interest and overall impact on the South Okanagan.

4) Round two in Penticton's battle with local pot shops

The City of Penticton’s wrestling match with local marijuana dispensaries makes a return appearance to our top stories of the year.

At the end of 2016, the city thought it had a handle on the proliferation of illegal pot shops within the community — opting to regulate the industry and grant two temporary use permits to Green Essence and Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy.

However, a month after those permits were handed out, a new illegal dispensary, Okanagan Cannabis Solutions, opened on Main St. This was on top of Jukka Laurio’s Herbal Greens, which refused to close after not receiving a permit from the city.

Both shops incurred heavy daily fines, that eventually sunk Okanagan Cannabis Solutions.

Then in March — after being completely silent on the issue for months — the Penticton RCMP sent a letter to all three operating dispensaries in the city, declaring them all illegal regardless of  permits they may have from the city.

Originally, a lack of police enforcement led the city to believe they had few other options but to try to regulate themselves, so the sudden interest by the local police three months after the permits were handed out irked city hall.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit publicly grumbled that the police help would have been appreciated many months prior.

The letters spooked two of the shops, leading to their brief closure, but all were operating again within a week.

With financial penalties having no effect, the City of Penticton launched legal action on Apr. 24 against Jukka Laurio’s unlicensed dispensary, asking the courts to order him to close.

Laurio responded with a lawsuit of his own in June, arguing council “acted unreasonably” when it denied him a permit, noting that the other two licensed dispensaries in Penticton were still viewed as illegal by the federal government.

Shortly afterwards, Penticton city staff tabled a report urging council to pull the plug on its licensing program.

“Staff can now confidently say that the dispensaries are in direct conflict with federal enactment,” planning manager Blake Laven wrote, adding the dispensary permits compromised the city’s legal position against Laurio.

On July 18, council voted 5 - 2 to pull the permits of Green Essence and Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy. The city entered negotiations with all three dispensaries to transition them to a “wellness centre.”

The storefronts would be permitted to sell bongs and marijuana accessories, advocate for medical cannabis, but not sell the product.

The city has since entered into legal agreements with Green Essence and Okanagan Cannabinoid Therapy, giving the city and RCMP the right to inspect the premises for cannabis during business hours.

Herbal Greens has not formally signed, but is close to doing so.

Cannabis will be legalized in July 2018.

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