The City of West Kelowna has won a long-running legal battle against two marijuana dispensaries.

Black Crow Herbals Association and the related Okanagan Cannabis Solutions Society were operating in violation of city bylaws, the city argued.

In a ruling released last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok agreed with the city.

Black Crow and Okanagan Cannabis are both societies that dealt in medicinal marijuana before the federal government fully legalized cannabis in 2018.

“Black Crow obtained a business licence from the city in October 2014 and began operating a retail outlet on Westgate Road that same month,” Blok explained in a lengthy ruling. “In July 2016, the operators of Black Crow opened a second retail cannabis outlet on Main Street under the name Okanagan Cannabis Solutions Society. Unlike Black Crow, Okanagan Cannabis never held a business licence. Its operators were told by city bylaw personnel that Okanagan Cannabis’ business licence application was unlikely to be successful, so they decided to open as a non-profit society because, prior to 2017, non-profit societies were not required by the city to hold business licences.”

Over time, the city altered its bylaws, which included a requirement that non-profit societies obtain business licences.

Both operations were denied business licences in December 2017 but continued operating anyway “despite the city’s enforcement efforts, which included warnings and bylaw infraction tickets,” Blok noted.

“Unquestionably, the dispensaries operated and, as of the date of the hearing of the petitions, continued to operate contrary to the city’s bylaws,” Blok wrote.

The dispensaries, represented by Kelowna lawyer Stanley Tessmer, questioned the validity of the city’s bylaws. In a series of detailed explanations, Blok declared the bylaws valid.

“I conclude that the relevant provisions of the city’s business licence bylaw . . . were and are valid. The city was therefore entitled to cancel Black Crow’s 2017 business licence and to refuse to issue business licences to both dispensaries after that. The continued operation of the dispensaries after those events was a breach of the business licence bylaw,” the judge wrote.

The judge noted the dispensaries had declared their intentions were to shut down and apply for legal licences. As a result, he did not issue an enforcement order, but said the city could apply for one if they continue to flout the law.

The city was awarded costs, but a bid for “special costs” was denied.

In March, West Kelowna council decided to award five licences for cannabis stores. Further municipal and provincial approvals are required before the stores can open.

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