Courtenay council confirms denial of licence to cannabis dispensary

Despite a plea from the lawyer representing the Leaf Compassion Dispensary, Courtenay council is sticking to its guns and will not be issuing a business licence to the Fourth Street establishment.

At Monday’s meeting, lawyer Kirk Tousaw said Leaf Compassion is providing an “invaluable service” by providing medicinal cannabis to people who suffer from various ailments. Without a licence, about 3,000 Valley patients need to drive to Leaf stores in Port Alberni and Chemainus to access the required medicine.

“People are suffering,” said Tousaw, noting some will buy products off the street if they can’t drive to get what they need. “They deserve not to be treated like criminals.”

Noting the licensing application was denied due to zoning, Tousaw said C-1 zoning permits commercial retail use and community service. He argues that a licensed operation such as an escort service could be considered unlawful. But according to the City, a medical cannabis dispensary is not a permitted use in the C-1 zone.

Leaf Compassion opened for business on Oct. 1. The following day, bylaw officers slapped the dispensary with a $500 fine for operating without a business licence. The day after, police raided the premises. Leaf applied for a licence Oct. 5 and continued to operate. Shortly thereafter, police again raided the dispensary and arrested two individuals.

“What guarantee do I have that products are good, not mouldy?” asked Coun. Rebecca Lennox, who is a cancer patient.

Tousaw said a strict screening process is in place for suppliers. Also, a local lab is starting to test products.

“I’m a patient myself,” said Leaf owner Kyle Cheyne, noting testing has been in place for about 10 years. “We know exactly what’s in it.”

Coun. Manno Theos said municipalities don’t wield much power compared to provinces when it comes to cannabis. In Ontario, he notes cannabis dispensaries will be located alongside liquor stores.

“You’re asking municipalities to allow something we’re not allowed to do,” Theos said. “We have to wait for B.C. to make a move after the federal government.”

But Tousaw said it’s “clearly within the jurisdiction” of the municipality to determine whether or not to issue a business licence. He added that many B.C. jurisdictions have issued licences for the sale of medicinal cannabis, regardless of federal or provincial approval.

The Cannabis Act, Bill C-45, is looking to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code. Next summer, it appears the federal government will legalize marijuana.

Coun. Doug Hillian feels the federal government is putting municipalities in a tenuous position, considering the way the law is being changed.

“We feel this has been dumped on our doorstep,” said Coun. David Frisch, who was acting mayor Monday.

Council voted 4-1 to confirm denial the licence. Lennox opposed the recommendation. Mayor Larry Jangula and Coun. Erik Eriksson were absent Monday.

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