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It's a 'free for all' for Vernon pot shops operating without business licenses

The outside of Daniel Didio's 30 Avenue cannabis dispensary.
October 24, 2017 - 8:00 PM


VERNON - Daniel Didio opened a marijuana dispensary in Vernon about four months ago on Main Street, in between a UPS store and an audio equipment shop. The windows of his storefront are plastered with signs that read ‘TD Bank Fraud’ and wooden panels block the inside of the shop from view. At the door, a sign reads ‘all organic herb.’

Inside, the music is blaring. There are a few couches and tables set up and various jars of bud behind the front counter. How are Vernon residents responding to the new business?

“They like the pot,” Didio says. “They come in, get hungry and then they’re off to the restaurants.”

But not everyone is a fan of the store, in particular the exterior look of the shop. City officials confirmed Monday they have received complaints about the look of the storefront, but there is nothing they can do.

Didio is one of about a dozen such stores in the city (up from just four in 2015) operating without a business license. The federal government still hasn’t officially legalized pot, and the City can’t issue a business license for an illegal activity. And without a business license, the City can’t enforce signage bylaws or other zoning rules for that matter.

Daniel Didio, owner.
Daniel Didio, owner.

“Right now it’s a free for all,” Coun. Dalvir Nahal says.

On Monday, Vernon council took a first step towards regulating the storefront sale of marijuana.

READ MOREVernon council considers changing the rules of the game for pot shops

“I’m not against pot shops,” Nahal says. “I believe there’s a lot of health benefits… but right now 12 pot shops in Vernon, that’s way too many, so we have to create some sort of a structure, and some sort of rules for people to follow.”

The plan — if it gets approved by council — would involve first shutting down all dispensaries, and then having them apply on a case-by-case basis for a temporary use permit. Coun. Scott Anderson says that would help with things like unsightly buildings, because council could reject permit applications.

“If it’s completely an atrocious mess, then I’ll obviously say no, I’d anticipate,” Anderson says.

Inside of Didio's 30 Avenue pot shop.
Inside of Didio's 30 Avenue pot shop.

The City’s director of community infrastructure Kim Flick says if approved, temporary use permits would give the municipality some teeth to enforce zoning bylaws.

“Fire inspections, building inspections, bylaw compliance inspections — all of that can expect to be done,” she says.

Asked if the 12 dispensaries in Vernon have received any kind of building inspection, Flick said that some of them were previously issued business licenses as compassion clubs so would have been inspected at that time. Business licenses weren’t renewed this year, and any new shops likely haven’t been inspected at all.

“We have several operating that we are all aware don’t have, and never had, a business license, and in some cases, never applied for one,” Flick says.

Back to Didio — he defends the overall aesthetics of his business.

“It’s just a little different. It’s just simple recycled cedar. It’s kinda rustic, kinda artistic. It’s a little bit of character. Some people might not like it,” he says.

Pot for sale at Didio's shop.
Pot for sale at Didio's shop.

He says the venture has been quite lucrative so far and he’d like to get a business license eventually. He’s not leasing the building — he bought it — and has plans to buy more, but isn’t sure where yet. He describes his company (the Ocean Sprout Foundation) as a non-profit research endeavour and says revenue from the pot shop goes toward environmental enhancement projects. Right now, he’s says they are studying ocean kelp off of Vancouver Island.

As for TD Bank, isn’t publishing the allegations, but you can read the story for yourself: it’s taped on the dispensary window.

The federal government is expected to roll out legalization of marijuana in July 2018. Right now, no one knows what that will look like. If the rest of Canada follows Ontario’s direction — restricting the sale of pot to liquor board operated outlets — things could get even messier for Vernon’s dispensaries.

Previously, other Vernon dispensaries have approached council directly to encourage them to establish regulations so all shops operate to the same standard. Representatives of MMJ Total Health Centre said they wanted to work with the city to develop regulations for where dispensaries can be located, how many there are in the city, and hours of operation, but at that time, the city did not want to get involved. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2017

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