Nelson’s most outspoken medical marijuana provider observes the shifting cannabis landscape and declares he isn’t worried about delivering dope to his customers.
“Nothing will change with me. We are going to carry on the way we always have,” said Philip McMillan, founder and facilities director of the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club, a non-profit society that provides homegrown Kootenay bud to more than 1,000 members.
Despite operating in civic legal limbo for 18 years, McMillan remains optimistic.
City of Nelson officials have threatened to take action against NCCC in the past, but have never followed through.
“They’re afraid of me. That’s why they haven’t done anything,” said McMillan, stating the NCCC – as a medical marijuana dispensary – has protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedom.
While the city’s five for-profit medical dispensaries might have to apply for new licences once recreational marijuana is legalized and new local regulations are in place, NCCC plans to continue to operate in contravention of city rules.
”We are a non-profit organization, incorporated under the Societies Act. The licensing and regulating of which is the jurisdiction of the province,” said McMillan, insisting the NCCC doesn’t need a business licence.
When medical marijuana business licences were handed out to six for-profit dispensaries in March, 2017, the city turned down a licence to NCCC because they were unable to meet several conditions – including rules regarding signage and a minimum of two employees on site at all times. McMillan and the five-member NCCC board of directors did not make the changes requested and kept the facility open.
Two months later, city manager Kevin Cormack told the Star the NCCC would be given time to be compliant, stating, “We will not fine them tomorrow. We are not going to take enforcement action (right away).”
In February, 2018, during a council meeting about recreational cannabis regulations, a city official stated that the NCCC has continued to operate without a licence and that the city had begun issuing fines to the club and that council may eventually consider an injunction.
McMillan replied, with a challenge to the city in a letter to Star, stating, ”As to the threat of an injunction, we will win. If city staff want to waste tens of thousands of Nelson taxpayer dollars fighting a bunch of sick and dying people in court, all the power to them.”
McMillan claims he has not paid any fines and says the NCCC has never been closed by the city.
“We pay the rent,” said McMillan, referring to the shop they occupy at 606 Front Street, adding they also pay a nominal charity registration fee to the province every year.
City officials could not be reached for comment.
Police regularly stop in at NCCC to ensure all sales are legal – that all customers have a doctor’s note that confirming a medical diagnosis or recommends cannabis to treat it.
“We have never been busted,” said McMillan, adding people with a chronic or fatal condition can join the NCCC for a one-time fee of $20, making them eligible to purchase cannabis products for life.
This week, McMillan will have a close eye on Ottawa and the vote by the Senate to legalize recreational marijuana. (The Senate ended up passing the landmark legislaton, but with almost four dozen amendments that sends Bill C-45 back to the House of Commons. MPs now have to decide whether to approve, reject or modify the changes before returning the bill back to the Senate for another vote.) McMillan says Bill C-45 is a mistake, arguing all cannabis should instead be decriminalized.
“Don’t legalize it. It’s just going to be a bunch of Liberal insiders and ex-cops making a bunch of money. People who put cannabis users in jail now seek to profit off it. All the while they continue to put people in jail in some sick and twisted strategy to get rid of their competition. I hope the Senate kills it.”
He also adds that the feds’ plan to introduce a $1 per gram excise tax on all marijuana – recreational and medical – will make it more difficult for medical marijuana providers to compete.
Sales have been slow recently at NCCC, down from $3,000 per day in 2017 to $1,200 per day so far this year.
“But, as a non-profit we don’t need to make shareholders happy. I’ve had to curb my over-weighing a bit though,” said McMillan.
Even after the expected change of federal laws, NCCC will continue to purchase “high-quality Kootenay bud” from about 10 to 12 “mom and pop operations” throughout the Kootenays. McMillan said the THC levels of his product isn’t checked, adding, “There is good quality cannabis and bad quality cannabis. What makes cannabis medical is who is smoking it and why.”
Originally a social worker in Vancouver, McMillan opened NCCC in March, 2000 at the age of 25 in the basement of Holy Smoke, a legendary pot outlet that operated for years before being busted by police in 2006.
He says NCCC products have made a positive difference in countless lives, including two women “who cured their own breast cancer” along with a man, “once suffering from stomach cancer, who a year later was cancer free.”
And because of results like that, McMillan says he has no intention of making any changes.
“I am not a criminal. I only focus on helping people, that’s all we do here.”