Nelson council spent four emotionally fraught hours in chambers Wednesday morning and ultimately overturned the pot dispensary bylaw passed on Monday evening. Councillor Anna Purcell introduced the conversation and changed her vote during the debate.
“Councillor Purcell brought back a motion to reconsider the zoning bylaw for marijuana, and her concern centred around the opposition to the bylaw and what it means, so council had an extensive conversation this morning about why the bylaw was introduced in the first place,” Mayor Deb Kozak told the Star following the decision.
During the debate Councillor Janice Morrison spoke passionately on behalf of the bylaw and even asked to be momentarily excused at one point. Kozak acknowledged the contentiousness of the debate, but feels the reaction stems from a misunderstanding of what the city hopes to accomplish.
“There are some people in the community that are concerned that means their will be no more dispensaries. That was not the intent of the bylaw at all. It was to allow us to have appropriate community process so we can put in place zoning bylaws that would keep our community healthy,” she said.
And after a series of votes, Kozak summed up the result like this: “The first three readings have been rescinded and it sits at final adoption. (The bylaw) will be triggered when needed. We’re waiting for some news from the federal government, hopefully in November, about where they’re headed.”
So that means the bylaw can come up for a vote again. But the council remains divided on the subject, and Morrison is deeply disappointed with the outcome.
“I think there’s some confusion about what we’re doing here,” said Morrison. “We’re not trying to run these dispensaries out of town, we’re trying to put in place a zoning bylaw, which is one of the few tools we have as a city council.”
She said many Nelson residents don’t realize these dispensaries are currently illegal.
“Sometimes I think that gets lost with all the other talk going on. Marijuana is a multi-million dollar business and it was clearly brought to the forefront at the public meeting … I have to say as a five-generation Nelsonite I am very disappointed to be told … the primary industry in Nelson is the distribution of an illegal substance. I have a very difficult time with that.”
She said “when it’s legalized I can choose not to go into those stores. It’s not that I don’t want people to use it. I’m in health care: use what you’re going to use, but let’s not pretend it’s something it isn’t and right now it’s illegal.”
Morrison believes cannabis consumers should be utilizing the federal distribution system.
“I’m terribly disappointed with this decision. This was something simple, we’ve been really tolerant, I’ve been really tolerant by turning a blind eye towards these operations on Baker St. I don’t think there’s going to be any decrease, I think we’re going to see a proliferation.”
She wants to bring the bylaw back to the table sooner rather than later.
“This was about levelling the playing field,” she said. “People woke up on Tuesday and they could still get their Phoenix Tears and their Buddha Butter. We didn’t take that option away from anybody in this city. We just wanted something on a go-forward basis that legitimized it and gave all businesses equal access.”
And Morrison thinks there are voices in the community that aren’t being heard.
“(Monday night) was like a lobby group. I would’ve been pretty scared to be a naysayer, thinking I might be booed or heckled or followed out of the building.”
“There are many in the community that don’t feel comfortable with (a public hearing). I would say the public hearing was heavily influenced by pro-marijuana activists.”
But she said people will continue to communicate with council in a variety of ways, and she said “we’re rolling out a process to better understand what the community wants.”
“Our intention has always been to have that broader community conversation.”