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Kelowna RCMP marijuana raid a 'form of discouragement'

Ben Hunt and Selena Wong display some of The Herbal Health Centre's products—jams, lotions and cookies—that will be sold to licensed medical marijuana patients.
January 23, 2015 - 7:30 PM

VERNON - A police raid might seem like an extreme way to send a message, but a Vernon businessman thinks that was the case with a marijuana dispensary that was shut down in Kelowna.

Imre Kovacs is a partial owner of The Herbal Health Centre in Vernon, which opened in the summer of 2013, and while he says relations have been improving between dispensaries and law enforcement, police still feel they have a message to send. Kelowna RCMP directed that sentiment at the Kaya Clinic, a new dispensary in Kelowna, Jan. 15.

“I think there’s a fear that if they don’t keep raiding them, they’ll proliferate and it will be open season,” Kovacs says. “I think this (raid) is a form of discouragement.”

In the last couple of years, the number of dispensaries has climbed to four in Vernon and one in West Kelowna. Kelowna has had a compassion club called BeKind operating for six years. Kovacs can’t remember the last time one of them was raided by police, even though they are considered illegal.

“It’s always been at the discretion of the municipality and law enforcement,” Kovacs says. “I think most people that are opening this kind of facility have a pretty good idea of the risks involved. They understand that politically, legally, it’s this nebulous environment and you don’t know how law enforcement will react to you.”

It remains a grey area at the City of Vernon, which issues business licenses to compassion clubs, but doesn’t condone the actual sale of medical marijuana.
Director of community development Kim Flick says a compassion club is considered to be a place where licensed patients and growers can connect and exchange information, not provide the retail sale of marijuana.

But the city won’t intervene or pull a business license if they learn a compassion club is operating more like a dispensary—that’s for Health Canada and the RCMP to worry about.

“Consider it as if the city licenses a mechanic, and it turns out that mechanic is actually a chop shop. We were licensing a mechanic, that other set of activities that goes on, that’s illegal in the eyes of the law.... The violation isn’t of a city bylaw but a federal law at that point,” Flick says.

It's no secret that Vernon has at least two operating medical marijuana dispensaries, but there have been no raids, and few complaints despite the legal grey area they're in. 

While Kelowna RCMP may be sending a message of intolerance, Kovacs says there’s a different message coming from law courts. Judges have called for improved access to medical marijuana, and just last spring, possession charges were dropped against the owner of a Kamloops dispensary.

“The message is very loud and clear that although there is no law on the books, you’re just going to be swimming upstream by trying to charge these people and shoot them down,” Kovacs says. “The message from the courts is leave them alone.”

Without knowing the full details around the Kaya Clinic raid—police only said they received unspecified complaints—Kovacs won’t speculate on why that dispensary was targeted.

As for The Herbal Health Centre, Kovacs says they have a scrupulous screening process, only selling to legitimate medical patients. They’ve been open and upfront with the city and the local RCMP detachment about what they’re doing, and so far, there haven’t been any problems.

“We’re aware of this kind of nebulous environment we’re operating in. That’s why we wanted to develop good relationships with the people who have the authority to make life difficult for us,” Kovacs says. “Do we worry? Yeah, every time something like this happens it puts us on alert. But we operate as responsibly as we possibly can. If they do look at us, we can stand up proudly and say we’ve done everything we were asked to do.”

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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