Mayor Kozak: pot shops won’t close

Council plans to take steps towards regulating industry in preparation for potential legalization.

Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak said the city has no plans to shut down the city's existing pot dispensaries.

None of the six current pot dispensaries operating in downtown Nelson will be closed according to Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak and city manager Kevin Cormack. And though council passed a bylaw that aims to regulate the burgeoning industry, residents shouldn’t expect any large-scale intervention.

“We tried valiantly to explain why we felt it was necessary to put in this bylaw,” Kozak told the Star, noting the backlash and panic inspired by the decision made on Monday evening.

“People were very nervous and frightened, thinking the City of Nelson was going to take away their medicine or their access, and that’s not what this is about. This isn’t a big axe hanging over the heads of the cannabis business community.”

“This bylaw is intended to begin the process of zoning in the city,” she said. “We are fully expecting the federal government to legalize the industry, not just medical but also recreational cannabis, and part of good community planning is to put in place zoning so these establishments can operate in a business-like fashion.”

Put more bluntly: “It’s not the city’s role to regulate the product, or say Supplier A isn’t good and Supplier B is better, we’re not going to do that. Putting this bylaw in place does not mean we’re going out and closing every dispensary currently operating.”

She compared the proliferation of pot shops to the affordable housing crisis, which was exacerbated by the arrival of Airbnb.

“Suddenly we had a problem with zero rentals, and the city had to come in and say what makes sense here? Do we say no short-term rentals or do we invite the community to have a conversation? That is the parallel we’re trying to achieve with the cannabis industry.”

So she’d like to see a task force created, an idea supported by Councillor Anna Purcell who voted in favour of the bylaw along with Janice Morrison and Bob Adams. And though her choice was unpopular with the gallery, Purcell insists the decision is a good one.

“I really want people to know I heard them,” said Purcell. “But I stand behind my belief that this is the best policy for the city right now. It’s not about being pro or anti-pot. I’m delighted we’re approaching legalization it’s been too long coming.”

As Purcell puts it, “this is about having the most flexibility as possible in a changing legal environment.”

City manager Kevin Cormack said in an ideal world the city wouldn’t have to do anything to regulate cannabis because the task would be taken care of by higher levels of government. He noted there’s no need for a liquor control bylaw.

“So if the feds take that approach with marijuana, council might say the rules are now in place so we don’t have to do much at all maybe signage, security bars, deciding how many can be in a block.”

According to him, this bylaw is a “placeholder.”

Kozak said the community can expect council to continue with the “measured approach” they’ve employed for the last year and a half, and said they’ll use their discretion when deciding when or how to intervene.

“I think it’s about having a civil, polite society and it’s about having things in balance,” she said.

And though the decision was thoroughly unpopular with those present, council is happy that the conversation hasn’t devolved to name-calling or antagonism yet and wants to encourage the cannabis industry to engage in their planning process.

“I’m glad nobody’s thrown tomatoes at my house yet,” said Purcell.

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