Green Aura in Chemainus’ Village Square closed last week following an injunction received from the Municipality of North Cowichan. It had been in operation for 560 days and had 2,600 members, according to owners. (Mike Gregory Photo)

Chemainus dispensary succumbs to legal pressure from North Cowichan

A Chemainus dispensary that was steadfast in remaining open despite fines and a raid by RCMP last year finally closed its doors last week on the same day North Cowichan council passed new rules regarding the retail sale of marijuana.

Green Aura was located in Chemainus Village Square and in operation for 580 days with nearly 2,600 members, according to owner Trevor Pewarchuk.

“Following this crazy and windy path through cannabis legalization has been hard, long, and not always rewarding,” Pewarchuk wrote on the businesses’ Facebook page.

“However, to see so many of our members overcome their pain, insomnia, cancer, anxiety, and fear has been some of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. We will forever carry with us the stories and legacy that have become part of the Green Aura brand.”

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However, the business closure wasn’t completely due to a a public hearing at North Cowichan city council last Wednesday afternoon to amend zoning bylaw banning the retail sale of marijuana within the municipal boundary, except for distribution by an approved medical production facility.

That means that any new application to set up a pot shop in the municipality once the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal on Oct. 17 would require a site-specific zoning amendment that would have to come before council to be considered.

Mayor Jon Lefebure said at the meeting that the amendment is a land-use issue and not about trying to prevent the sale of marijuana in the municipality.

“We’re just trying to control where sales are allowed,” he said.

CAO Ted Swabey explained to council last week that the policy at this time is not to carry out any enforcement against existing businesses that are operating without a licence.

“It’s up to council to decide how to deal with them,” he said. “If council chooses to enforce the bylaws, I would suggest you get legal advice first.”

However, that’s not the case according to the owners of two dispensaries in Chemainus.

Pewarchuk told the Chronicle that North Cowichan had handed him an injunction earlier in July that would have made remaining open any longer next to impossible.

In a letter to the municipality on Tuesday, Green Aura asked that North Cowichan council instruct legal representatives to lift the injunction so it can reopen.

“When Green Aura received the injunction against us, issued by the Municipality of North Cowichan, we had just finished researching small communities and the action plan they were taking to effectively incorporate cannabis businesses into their community,” he said in a letter to the municipality on Tuesday of this week that was provided to the Chronicle.

“We have seen, that since closing, other, corporate cannabis dispensaries that are not locally owned have, within North Cowichan, remained open and operate without any repercussions. Why has Green Aura been singled out? Please reconsider this action against us and allow us to work with you all.”

When asked about the reasons for the injunction and how the municipality was prepared to act if the dispensary remained open, officials said they could not provide comment because of the “legal nature of the issue.”

Kyle Cheyne, co-owner of Leaf Compassion, which has several locations across Vancouver Island including Chemainus, confirmed in an email that they were also served with an injunction order and had a lawyer reviewing it.

He wrote that this wasn’t the first time being served papers but the dispensary opened and continues to operate “because the ones that are most in need/ in chronic pain don’t have access to medicine ASAP and it’s very wrong, but we are here to help.”

“I understand it’s a tough time for council to make decisions on this subject but we will remain open and serve the community the best we can as changes happen in the near future,” Cheyne added.

Ted Swabey pointed out at the July public hearing, overflowing with concerned residents, that under the legal framework set out by the province earlier in the month, council would still have a say on what applications for retail marijuana stores would be given a green light, regardless if the bylaw amendment passed or not.

But he said the province provides no guidelines at this time on many aspects of the applications to set up marijuana stores, including where they can be established and how far apart they can be.

“It would appear that we would maintain some control of the shops through having to make a resolution to allow each one, but the province’s liquor licensing process started the same way,” Swabey said.

“We don’t know the future horizon and what criteria will be established, like distances from schools and each other, so we could be facing challenges. If we want to maintain some control over where these businesses are set up, it’s through this zoning amendment.”

In March 2017, North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP raided both Chemainus dispensaries, arresting staff and owners as well as seizing product and paraphernalia. Those charges remain before the courts.

With files from Robert Barron

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