The “law of the land” has once again denied a business licence for one of the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries after the city revisited an earlier decision to not support what it considered an illegal activity.
Council reconsidered the application from Herbivore Cannabis Inc. in a public hearing on Aug. 21 for a business licence for the property located at 7361 Second Street to see if there was reasonable cause for a new licence.
However, after nearly one hour of debate in the hearing — without a representative present from Herbivore — the line of thought came back around to the same sentiment: a medical marijuana dispensary was still illegal.
Mayor Frank Konrad said if you looked at all of the illegal drug operations that were going on in Grand Forks, in one sense at least this one was out in the open.
“Unfortunately, it still goes against the law of the land,” he said. “In one sense I feel it might help the situation if we did grant a business licence … at least she is out in the open. But unfortunately we still cannot deem it as legal.”
Coun. Colleen Ross there were medical marijuana shops in operation coast to coast in many communities in Canada.
“Grand Forks is not in the business of denying people medicine, which is the mandate of this business,” she said. “For us to deny this shop would not be progressive.”
Coun. Beverley Tripp raised a concern for public health and safety — noting that marijuana was an entry-level drug for many people — and could not support the business licence.
A lack of a physician and the downtown location where people who have trouble with drugs and alcohol could have access to the products were two concerns for Coun. Chris Hammett.
In agreeing with Ross, Coun. Christine Thompson said marijuana was a medicine, but Herbivore’s application was ahead of its time and it should re-apply when the federal government legalized marijuana.
Although city council did hear from staff on the business licence denial, no representatives from Herbivore were present.
The city had first received a business licence application from Herbivore Cannabis Inc. on Dec. 8, 2016 for a retail premise. However, the application was denied in a letter dated Jan. 18, 2017 stating the city “understood that an illegal activity was the intent of the business, and further, that the city cannot support or endorse illegal activities.”
On Feb. 1 Herbivore responded, requesting a number of clarifications, but did acknowledge that it was operating a cannabis dispensary.
A letter was issued April 7 reiterating the city’s position that it could not support or endorse illegal activities. The letter quoted Section 60 of the Community Charter that allowed for a business licence to be refused in any case provided it was not unreasonable and that written reasons are given.
Reasonable cause to refuse a business licence include where a business does not comply with a bylaw or is complicit in breaches of laws or regulations in relation to the business.
Two months later Herbivore asked for further clarification on the rejection of the business licence and for the city to reconsider the decision. In July the city said the decision would be reconsidered by city council.
Rationale behind the refusal
The city manager of development and engineering, Dolores Sheets, acting as the business licence inspector, refused to issue a business licence for Herbivore Cannabis for two reasons, contending that an illegal activity had been publicly announced as the intent of the business. As well, Sheets noted the city could not support or endorse illegal activities.
According to a city staff report, it was noted that the business licence applicant, Herbivore, had acknowledged that it sought a business licence to operate a dispensary for the retail sale of marijuana “in advance of the law.”
However, Konrad contended that federal law governing access to medical marijuana did not authorize access through marijuana dispensaries. In a public statement regarding the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, Health Canada stated storefronts selling marijuana, commonly known as “dispensaries,” were not authorized to sell cannabis and were illegal.
According to Health Canada, these operations are illegally supplied and provide products that are unregulated and may be unsafe, said Konrad.
“Storefronts selling marijuana, commonly known as dispensaries and compassion clubs, are not authorized to sell cannabis for medical or any other purposes,” he said. “So it is irrelevant, in this location or not, it’s just not legal. And that’s the unfortunate part where we are handcuffed; as a corporation we are handcuffed by that statement.”
Ross argued that municipalities across Canada have been giving business licences to dispensaries for some time now.
As a result, illegal storefront distribution and sale of cannabis in Canada and in Grand Forks were subject to law enforcement action.
Taking it to the courts
Several municipal governments have been successful in court in enforcing their business licence bylaws against people operating medical marijuana dispensaries without a business licence.
Originally, the business licence applications were rejected on the basis that retail sale of marijuana was unlawful.
On Jan. 18 the city sent Herbivore a letter, stating, “Your application for a business licence has been denied for the following reasons:
- An illegal activity has been publicly announced as the intent of your business;
- The city cannot support or endorse illegal activities.”