Nelson council voted in favour of final adoption of its medical cannabis business licence bylaw as well as its cannabis business zoning amendment bylaw on Monday night, stating that the bylaws will be in place until the federal government brings in regulations.
Mayor Deb Kozak said council has spent an inordinate amount of time discussing this.
“There have been many hours of staff and council research, it has been onerous. We are trying to put in place a good interim bylaw composed of best practices, plus taking into consideration our small downtown.”
The business licence bylaw
The business licence bylaw restricts the number of cannabis dispensaries in the city to six and requires operators to apply for a $5,000 annual licence.
It imposes a number of specified security provisions such as video surveillance cameras, security and fire alarms, and air filtration. It contains stipulations about signage and the number of staff who must be on the premises. Windows facing the street must not be opaque.
People under 19 are not allowed on the premises unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, and no one may smoke or ingest cannabis on the premises.
A violation of the bylaw can lead to a maximum of six months in jail or a $10,000 fine.
The business licence bylaw had already passed third reading at a previous council meeting and was on the table again Monday for final adoption.
Before the vote, city management presented a summary of 64 comments from 36 commenters that the city had received from the public about the licencing bylaw.
The most frequent comment was from 16 people who felt that the licence fee was too high. Only seven of the 64 comments asked for dispensaries to be disallowed.
All councillors including Mayor Deb Kozak voted in favour of the bylaw except Councillors Bob Adams and Janice Morrison.
Adams moved that the bylaw be withdrawn and that there be no bylaw until the federal government comes up with its marijuana legislation. No one seconded his motion.
Morrison stated that she disagrees with people being allowed to sell or purchase marijuana regardless of licencing.
“This is an illegal business and until such time as the federal government, which I feel has done a really good job of abdicating their role, gets this completed, I think these compassion clubs and marijuana dispensaries should be closed in the city of Nelson,” said Morrison.
The zoning amendment bylaw
The zoning amendment bylaw had already passed second reading at a previous council meeting and was on the table again Monday for third reading and final adoption.
The bylaw creates rules about where cannabis-related businesses may be located, in this case in the C1 (downtown commercial) and MU4 (waterfront mixed use) zones, and it stipulates that in those zones they may not exist within certain specified distances of each other, or within 80 metres of the youth centre or a public school.
Whenever a municipality changes the rules on what kind of business can exist in specific zones of the city, it must hold a public hearing so that property owners in the immediate area can speak about how they zoning change will affect them.
Seven people spoke, five of them owners or employees of existing dispensaries explaining why the bylaw is onerous.
The most common concern was that three dispensaries located in the Front Street area are now in violation of the new bylaw because they are located too close to each other and too close to the youth centre, and will have to either move or apply to the city for a variance. Moving will not be easy, they said, because of a lack of commercial real estate space in Nelson.
Phillip McMillan, who has run the Compassion Club as a non-profit since 1999, said, “This bylaw will add unnecessary costs to sick and dying people who are financially struggling. I have tried to make my product as affordable as possible.”
All councillors including the mayor voted in favour of the bylaw except Adams and Morrison.