Marijuana storefronts booming in Vernon, despite lack of licencing

Click to play video 'Vernon takes another look at pot shops as number of businesses grow' Vernon takes another look at pot shops as number of businesses grow
Vernon takes another look at pot shops as number of businesses grow – Oct 17, 2017

Marijuana storefronts are a booming industry in the north Okanagan. Even though they are illegal, the number of pot shops in Vernon has grown steadily over the last few years.

The city has been taking a hands off approach. It’s no longer issuing them business licenses but it’s also not moving to shut them down.

READ MORE: Vernon takes a wait-and-see approach to pot shops

However, the city’s approach could change. Council is expected to receive a staff report on possible approaches to marijuana storefronts at its next meeting.

Medical marijuana dispensary MMJ Total Health Care has been operating in Vernon for roughly three years.

READ MORE: Vernon medical marijuana dispensary wants to work with city hall

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It used to have a city business license but their most recent license expired at the end of 2016 and when the business went to renew it wasn’t able to.

“We just want to play by the rules. We want to be licensed. We want to be regulated just like everybody else. We offer a public service to people,” said MMJ president Jeff Gaudette.

The city stopped licensing marijuana storefronts this year.

“When the businesses first applied, they [applied] as health and wellness shops or compassion clubs and once we became aware of them dispensing marijuana…. we choose we would not issue the licenses,” said mayor Akbal Mund.

Instead the city opted to wait and see what the framework for legal marijuana sales will be. Recreational marijuana is expected to become legal next summer.

However, B.C. had yet to announce its plans for legal sales, which may or may not allow for private pot shops.

“What we didn’t want to do is set up a precedent by having some of the shops saying we were granted grandfathered business licenses back in 2017,” said Mund.

READ MORE: Ontario to sell marijuana in 150 government-run stores; must be used in ‘private residences’

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While the city has taken a hands off approach the number of pot shops in the city has grown steadily. Gaudette said there are now 10 operating in the city along with a number of delivery services.

“There is a need for it. There could probably be 18 stores here and they would all be able to keep their doors open,” said Gaudette.

“A lot of us were responsible to not set up in school zones… but you run out of space and more and more people are seeing that it is being tolerated. And they are going to keep pushing it to the next level. It is unfortunate but when you don’t regulate an industry this is what happens.”

The mayor argues it is difficult for the city to set rules when it doesn’t know what legalization will look like.

“It is something that we want to make sure that we are not spending a lot of time and effort on because we know it is going to change. The goal post are going to be set up by the provincial government we’ve got to wait for that. At the same time you have people on both sides and I get that,” said Mund.