Pictured from left are Val Litwin, president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce with Tanya Finley, president of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, Carole James, deputy premier and finance minister, and Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce. Photo submitted

COLUMN: Nelson Chamber of Commerce advocating for cannabis industry

An update from the Chamber’s Tom Thomson

By Tom Thomson

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce initiates and leads discussion on current issues that affect business in our region. We are our members’ voice at the table when policy is made at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

Business advocacy has always been a key platform of the Nelson chamber’s annual work. This is nothing new. It has been going on since 1893 when the South Kootenay Board of Trade was formed. The people have changed, the issues are always evolving, but the chamber has always had advocacy as a key platform.

These days, business needs are represented at an extraordinary number of boards and committees throughout the region. Working with all levels of government and our community partners, the chamber staff and board are closely involved in community and regional initiatives that give business, the opportunity to succeed and to provide a voice for business concerns. The chamber works with our economic development partners to be a catalyst for businesses to work together to create a vibrant and diverse economy.

Chambers from across B.C. descended on Burnaby recently to discuss and debate key policy issues impacting the province at the BC Chamber of Commerce AGM. This marked a banner year for the BC Chamber with 73 policies submitted and supported by 55 individual chambers.

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce received unanimous support for our resolution designed to streamline the regulatory transition of the B.C. cannabis industry.

We need private cannabis retailers to move consumers to the regulated market. Provincial and federal regulations are impeding private retailers and cultivators — impacting both local economies. An opportunity exists to develop policy that will successfully regulate a significant portion of the cannabis industry in B.C., an achievement that would be a clear economic benefit for the province, even more impactful in the West Kootenay.

A thriving, regulated cannabis industry in B.C. would be well positioned to become a leader in what will soon be a global marketplace. The Nelson and District Chamber will continue to advocate for this important emerging sector with all levels of government.

Private retailers in B.C. are facing considerable challenges after receiving their licenses and attempting to stock with products from the Liquor Distribution Branch. Those shortages have come about with only a handful of legal stores licensed. The success and sustainability of cannabis retailers depends on the strength of their supply chain, and a lack of availability of product from small local producers, and the resulting lack of buy-in from consumers is a concern. Local and regional cultivators face several hurdles and economic barriers to getting licensed.

There were plenty of other key policy discussions as the B.C. Chamber championed three policies on enhancing emergency management efforts in B.C., demonstrating a commitment to preparing and protecting the B.C. business community from floods, wildfires and other natural disasters.

“British Columbia’s framework for disaster management has been severely tested in recent years. The effects of climate change and extreme weather events have had profound impact, and we must adjust to a new normal, through prevention and preparedness to mitigate impacts to our people and communities,” according to the Prince George Chamber.

Two other policies “Wildfire interface and prevention” (submitted by the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce) and “Floods as an emerging economic threat requiring action” (submitted by the Surrey Board of Trade) also passed with mass support.

Nelson and area has had a zero vacancy rate for more than four years. The chamber has been an advocate for all types of types housing for our community. This is not a situation unique to our area, so not surprisingly, rental housing was also a front and center issue at the AGM with three policy submissions. Two advocated for more purpose-built rental housing, and one made recommendations on how to create a feasible market environment for rental housing for builders, developers and investors.

This is just a snapshot of 73 policies. Advocacy with the provincial government begins in July. The full policy manual will soon be posted on the chamber website at discovernelson.com

Tom Thomson is the executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.

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