Nelson council decided Monday not to cancel the business licences held by five medical cannabis dispensaries, and instead let them run to their expiry date, December 31.
The vote went against a city management recommendation that council cancel the business licences of the Green Room Society, the Leaf Cross Health Society, King Canna Medicinals, the Kootenay’s Medicine Tree and the Nelson Potorium as of October 17, when federal and provincial regulations kick in and make medical cannabis and edibles dispensary sales illegal.
Council granted the five licences last year in the absence of any federal or provincial regulations on medical cannabis dispensary sales. As of Oct. 17, though, with new provincial and federal regulations, the RCMP or provincial authorities could shut down any dispensary regardless of whether it has a city business licence.
According to city manager Kevin Cormack, cancelling the licences was a housekeeping matter, clearing the way for a new system of licensing for recreational cannabis businesses later this year.
“Under provincial and federal regulations, these [medical cannabis dispensaries] are not legal businesses,” he said. “If council has a bylaw that does not conform to federal or provincial regulations, it has no effect. The province will be enforcing these regulations. We are cleaning up our regulations to get in line with the province.”
But council, perhaps influenced by three medical cannabis business owners who made presentations to them earlier in the meeting, had other ideas.
Councillors Michael Dailly and Valerie Warmington wanted to know whether letting the licenses continue to December 31 posed any risk to the city. Cormack replied that it did not, but on the other hand, he said, it would not prevent the businesses from being prosecuted by the provincial government or the police.
When Warmington introduced a motion that the licences be allowed to run to the end of December, it was enthusiastically supported by Councillor Bob Adams, who historically has voted with no sympathy toward cannabis businesses and who is running for re-election.
This prompted Dailly, who is not running for re-election, to ask, “I have questions for councillors who voted for a penalty for dispensaries if they stay open beyond the 16th: What has changed your mind today? I kind of think I know why….”
When a municipal council considers revoking a business licence, the licence holder is entitled to address council. At Monday’s meeting, before council’s deliberation and decision, representatives of three dispensaries made five-minute presentations.
Jim Leslie of the Kootenay Medicine Tree asked that council allow his business to continue past Oct. 16 because “people will not be able to access in any lawful manner the products they have come to rely on. This will create an access crisis in this community. These sick people, many of whom voted for you and put you in these seats today, will not have the medicine they need to survive in many cases.”
Vic Olak of the Leaf Cross Health Society asked council to “consider the economic value that the five dispensaries contribute. They employ about 40 local residents… who pay taxes.”
Olak’s and Leslie’s points were supported in a short presentation by the owner of the Green Room.
Council also voted to cancel a penalty that would have been levied on any cannabis business applying for a recreational cannabis licence if it has contravened a previous city regulation (in this case operating outside zoning). It is expected that some or all of the current medical cannabis dispensaries will apply for a recreational licence.
The cancelled penalty is part of a selection matrix passed by council in June in anticipation of a deluge of applications for recreational businesses this fall. The matrix is designed to help the city decide which applications to accept, considering that they have decided to only accept a maximum of six. The penalty would have subtracted 20 points from a 100-point scoring system.