Herb’s Health Center owner Russ Stevenson said he’ll be closing his medical marijuana store at 6 p.m. Tuesday at a rally at his shop Tuesday afternoon. The City of Vernon, he said, has put mounting pressure on his operation for not having a business licence. The city said it’s the federal goverment who operates medical marijuana, the province regulates recreational marijuana and the city can’t issue a business licence if the province doesn’t support the application. Stevenson does not have an approved application from Victoria. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

Okanagan medical cannabis shop shutting doors

Herb’s Health Centre has been operating without a city business licence for nearly a year

Karen Ogloff will have a decision to make.

The Lumby woman, a 20-year-sufferer of lupus, makes a trip into Vernon regularly for product at Herb’s Healing Center, in the Alpine Centre on Kal Lake Road, product Ogloff says helps her with her disease.

Tuesday afternoon, at a rally held by Herb’s owner Russ Stevenson, Ogloff heard the owner say he was closing his doors at 6 p.m. – facing, Stevenson said, a $5 million fine and three years in jail if he didn’t – leaving her in a lurch as to where she’ll get her product.

“I was diagnosed with lupus in 1992 and, so far, Herb’s products are the only thing that have helped me,” said Ogloff, 47, who has been using Stevenson’s products for “about a year.”

“I have no idea what I’m going to do (now). The prices here are good, the products are good, they’re excellent. I’m worried if he closes I won’t be able to get a product that helps a lot.”

RELATED: Vernon moves closer to full cannabis regulations

Stevenson held a rally at his shop Tuesday, attended by about 30 customers and supporters, protesting the City of Vernon insisting he close his business because he doesn’t have the proper licensing.

Support for Stevenson came from Ogloff and the likes of Julia Berschley, and her grandson, Bryce Kennedy. Berschley’s son, Collin, Bryce’s father, died Christmas Eve 2018 after a 20-plus-year battle with multiple myeloma.

“My son suffered for more than 20 years, and if it wasn’t for Russ supplying cannabis, and edibles, and smoking products, my son may not have lived as long as he did,” said Berschley. “When I couldn’t afford to buy him his products, Russ gave him a whole bag of edibles for free. He didn’t charge me.”

“He got a lot of quality of life out of your product,” said Bryce to Stevenson, who said he’s been selling cannabis in Vernon for more than six years. He is one of the original founders of the Herbal Health Centre, right behind his current shop in the Alpine Centre. He did that for four years with the proper city business licences, then opened his own store two years ago. Since then, Stevenson said he’s spent this time “looking after our patients.”

The City of Vernon, he said, came to his shop in January 2018 and asked that he put a covenant on the property and apply for a special temporary use permit to allow him to operate straight through until recreational marijuana was legalized in October 2018 and until provincial operating licences were approved. One of the stipulations, he said, was that he was given a “certain period of time for the licence to be on the wall.”

“We can’t control the speed the government works, so there’s no way we can say product will be on the wall in three months or a year, so a restriction on time frame makes no sense,” he said, calling the application process “absolutely cumbersome and ridiculous.”

He has continued to operate without a proper licence, giving away, he claimed, more than $30,000 worth of product to his customers. He had nine employees prior to the regulations but has been operating the store himself for the past few months, and Stevenson said his client base number is 2,800.

“The people being hurt by all of these delays are the medical patients,” said Stevenson. “Patients can only buy off a licensed producer for the government and those producers are not compassionate. The other problem I see is medical patients are ordering online, paying for shipping and waiting for a product to show up while recreational users can walk into a store and buy their product. How is that OK? Why are we punishing the most vulnerable people in our society?”

Stevenson blasted the government’s products, saying the products he sells “far out-exceed what the government sells,” and also City of Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming for a lack of response to four phones calls from Stevenson, and to calls from “500 of his customers.”

“We definitely did not get 500 calls, we got quite a few and each had an e-mail message returned to them,” said Cumming, who feels sorry for Stevenson’s plight.

“I feel for him, I really do. He’s offering what he thinks is a great product but the federal government will not legalize those products.

“Mr. Stevenson was made quite aware, and he knows, he’s been operating without a licence. He was told he had to quit selling medical marijuana as only the federal government can do that and people have to order online. He was then made aware that the province would be responsible for licensing recreational marijuana and go through the application process (which Stevenson said he had). He has not been granted a licence by the province so the city can’t give him a business licence.

“I don’t know what else we can do.”

If he does close for good at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Stevenson, who said he didn’t want to apply for a recreational licence, called it “a sad day in history,” and got further support from advocate Cynthia Breden of Vernon.

“I thank Russ for his integrity, putting his own health and safety and own freedoms and monies at risk,” she said. “We stand with you, we stand for you. It’s so easy to lose our lives to the Internet and order online, but do people realize we’re giving away little bits of freedom here and there, and Russ is reminding us that we need to stand up to our right to choose.”



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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