Shelves at the Kaya Clinic are empty, after being shut down for the second time in six months by RCMP.
Police executed a search warrant at the medical marijuana dispensary in January, but no arrests were made.
The business closed for a time, but reopened on the Easter long weekend. However, on May 5, RCMP and bylaw officers again entered the premises.
According to the new owner of the dispensary, Kaja Gjesdal, they were told to close up shop and take out all product, or they would be raided again.
“We took out all of our medical marijuana and all of our products, and we now have nothing in here,” she says.
Gjesdal is worried for her clients.
“We had 400 patients, and some of them have cancer, and they need our product. We don’t want to abandon them. We need to know what our options are.”
The clinic is still open, but is not signing up any more patients. Instead, it's open for consultations and, as Gjesdal explains, staff are still trying to find a way to help people. Kaya did have a naturopath on site at one time, but not anymore.
Marijuana is regulated as a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which the RCMP has an obligation to investigate when grounds exist. There is currently no legal mechanism available in Canada that allows for self-described "medical marijuana dispensaries" or "compassion clubs."
The Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations came into effect on April 1, 2014. The MMPR and its predecessor, the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations, provide the only legal means through which Canadians, when supported by a physician, can obtain access to marijuana for medical purposes.
Victoria recently became latest B.C. city to draft bylaws for the dispensaries, and Vancouver is considering a plan to regulate illegal pot shops.
Stephen Flemming with the City of Kelowna, says the city recognizes its approach to dispensaries is different from other local governments in B.C., but it is up to each jurisdiction to decide how to handle them.
“Our issue with dispensaries is that Health Canada has said they are not a lawful business, so it is not a question so much as to what bylaw are they violating or not in compliance with. It’s Health Canada being quite clear in their regulation that you cannot dispense marijuana through a storefront dispensary."
Kirsten Jones, with the District of West Kelowna, says there are two types of marijuana businesses operating with a licence in that municipality. Both claim to not be dispensaries.
“On the business licence, one says private club, medical marijuana, and one says compassion club,” she says.
Jones wouldn’t comment on which businesses hold those licenses. However, Black Crow Herbal Solutions: THC Dispensary operates in West Kelowna, and someone with the establishment told Castanet they are licensed and have not been visited by police.
The businesses highlight a gap in the district’s business licence system, says Jones.
“On April 13, council adopted an amendment that says the bylaw inspector has the additional authority to grant a business licence when they are satisfied the proposed business wouldn’t be carried out in contravention of the Criminal Code of Canada and the Controlled Drug and Substance Act.
"So, if our business licensing officers feels they are not compliant with the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drug and Substance Act, they don’t have to give them a licence.”
The amendment is not retroactive for existing businesses, however.
“We are not going to go back and withdraw their licence because of the amendment, but council at any time has the authority to withdraw business licences.
Jones says she is not aware of any plans to revoke the licence.
As for Gjesdal, she says having a dispensary is about helping people who have nowhere else to go and who have found a medicine that works for them. She believes there needs to be change.
There is a Supreme Court case to be heard in the coming year regarding dispensaries, but until a verdict has been announced, Flemming says the city will be sticking to the law.
“Once there is a change, we will react and change our practices to be compliant with federal law. We understand there are differences of what should be in place and whether this law is constitutional or not. But until it is decided one what or another, we are not going to presume what those answers are.”
Gjesdal is hoping to plead her case before council to allow dispensaries in Kelowna. In the meantime, Kaya Clinic will hold a peaceful rally across from City Hall on Monday at 12:30 p.m. to draw awareness to the issue.