Nelson council at its Monday meeting pondered recommendations from its management staff on a number of recreational cannabis regulations. These would come into play after federal legalization if an applicant for a recreational cannabis business is first approved by the province.
Planner Natalie Andrijancic presented the following recommendations for the new zoning amendment bylaw:
1. No minimum separation distance between cannabis stores.
2. Maximum five stores: two stores downtown, one on Nelson Ave/ Highway 3A, one in the Industrial/ Lakeside Drive area, one in Railtown, and no stores in the mall.
3. Separation distances of 150 metres between cannabis stores and youth-related facilities: schools, parks, the Community Complex, Youth Centre and the Civic Centre.
4. Because of the compact nature of Nelson, reduced separation distances of 74 metres in the Industrial/Lakeside drive area, 114 metres on Baker St. and Victoria St., 75 metres on Front Street and 125 metres on Nelson Avenue.
5. Maximum gross floor area of 500 square metres (5382 square feet) and storefront of 16 metres (52 feet).
6. Prohibition across lot lines of odorous, toxic or noxious matter or vapours; heat, glare, electrical interference or radiation; recurring ground vibration; and noise levels exceeding 65 decibels over a one hour period. This part of the new regulation will not be specific to cannabis but to all properties in the city.
These recommendations were presented at the committee of the whole, a monthly meeting at which presentations are made but decisions are not. Council will make a decision in June. Andrijancic explained that the proposed regulations are the result of an extensive public survey conducted in the spring and an open house held in May, as well as research on what is working in other cities.
The full text of the staff recommendations presented to council is attached below in the document called Recreational Cannabis Zoning. City Council’s video of the discussion starts at 2:15:00 here.
The city’s Advisory Planning Commission has approved of the recommended bylaw but wants council review it in a year.
The proposed bylaws elicited many comments and calls for clarification from council members, but no serious disagreement. One issue raised by both Councillor Valerie Warmington and Mayor Deb Kozak was whether restricting the number of outlets is essentially unfair.
“We want to cap the number of stores that we could allow,” Kozak said, “but as well I can see the other side of the issue, in that it sets up a monopoly. It would give (some) businesses a leg up, or a corner on the market. So those who may want to apply for a licence once the product is legalized could possibly be at a disadvantage if there are no spaces available, and I don’t know how we get around that. I am not sure how we balance those two values out. But if we work with this bylaw, however it is finalized, and in a year we reassess where we are at, I think that would be great.”
Businesses must apply to the province first
A person wishing to open a cannabis business must first apply to the province, which will do background checks and a criminal record check, and will ensure that the business has minimum of a one year lease. Then the province will want to know if the applicant can meet the zoning rules of the municipality, so it then refers the application there. If the municipality agrees that the zoning requirements are met, the province will then grant a licence. This is different from a municipal business licence, for which an applicant would then have to apply.
This discussion of proposed regulations is unrelated to the current medical cannabis stores in Nelson. Eventually they will have to comply with provincial regulations or be shut down by the province. They could apply to the province for a permit to sell recreational marijuana.
How council will decide on multiple applications
Council also received recommendations from management staff on how process and decide on applications for recreational cannabis businesses. City council’s video of this discussion starts at 2:38:20 here.
City planner Alex Thumm explained that applications to open a cannabis store in Nelson will be similar to the process for opening a liquor store, involving both provincial and municipal requirements and public input. The difference, he said, is that Nelson will have a restriction on the total number of stores.
How will it decide which applications to approve? How will it deal with a situation where there are more applications than there are opportunities?
Thumm explained that in order to avoid relying on a lottery system, city staff have developed a scoring matrix that assigns points in a number of categories: previous compliance with city regulations, location, community compatibility and impact, security plan, qualifications and experience, and building facade and interior improvements.
Thumm said this sort of scoring matrix is used in other places to filter through large numbers of applications for cannabis licenses.
City manager Kevin Cormack said similar scoring matrices are already used by the city, and other governments and companies, in deciding on a number of things including staff hiring, requests for proposals, and hiring consultants.
This proposed scoring matrix can be viewed in the document entitled Cannabis Procedures, attached below.
Applications for recreational cannabis municipal business licenses would be reviewed quarterly. Staff would rate candidates and refer the top scorers to council for a final decision.