News of a fourth pot dispensary potentially moving to the downtown core of Nelson — joining three existing locations on Front St. — has spurred high-level dialogue about the controversial facilities, according to Mayor Deb Kozak, and exploratory conversations on the topic of legalization and regulation have already begun.
“We’re in a bit of a conundrum,” she told the Star. “There are conversations going on at the police board and on council, and the fact is pot dispensaries are not legal and contravene our bylaws. At this point we have not made a decision, but it will probably come up as council starts setting our priorities in October.”
Kozak’s comments came on the heels of community complaints surrounding a new dispensary potentially moving into the former location of the Coconut Lounge at 116 Vernon St.
Landlord Dana Rothkop said the lease has not yet been signed, but neighbours have been informed the new facility could move in as soon as Oct. 1.
He didn’t respond to additional questions.
Kozak said current dispensaries are faced with a dilemma.
“Right now these dispensaries have to decide whether they’re going to operate without a license. And there are fines associated with that,” she said.
Recently the city rejected a business license for the Cannaclinic on Front St., accepting their application but serving them with a $100 bylaw fine rather than approving it. City manager Kevin Cormack said there has never been a license purposely granted for a dispensary in Nelson, but some may have inadvertently flown under the radar in years past.
“In some cases they will say ‘we’re Pacific Apparel Society’ or something like that, and they’ll give no indication that what they’re actually selling doesn’t correspond with what they told us.”
Cormack said though Kimberley recently began approving business licenses to dispensaries, and Kozak has been liaising with the mayor and council there, he would not recommend granting a business license unless the current bylaw is rewritten.
“As staff we’re obligated to work within the bylaws passed by council, and it’s council’s role to grant a business license. All communities are being challenged with this, and ultimately it’s going to be the federal government or the courts that make decisions on this. The laws in place are being challenged and there have been early decisions creating uncertainty.”
Nelson deputy police chief Paul Burkart said they have been in close contact with both the Nelson Compassion Club, formed in 1999 and recently moved to Front St., as well as the newly arrived Cannaclinic directly across the street from it.
Burkart, Cormack and Kozak didn’t mention the Kootenays Medicine Tree at 601 Front St., a dispensary with another location in Grand Forks that was recently shuttered.
“We will continue to look at the dispensaries as they come in, or when we get complaints,” he said
Burkart feels ambivalent about how things are developing, but is willing to do whatever’s necessary to ensure the community is “safe and happy.”
“I’m not thrilled,” said Burkart. “I understand the need for some people to use different products, but one concern is coming up from the States where it’s legal and now they’re getting overdoses and related deaths coming from non-smoking products like edibles.”
He said pot users often brag that there have been no deaths related to smoking weed, but “we’re not smoking it anymore, we’re taking it as these derivatives and our concern is if that continues.”
Burkart said they’re more concerned about fentanyl, though, which has been causing a number of deaths and overdoses.
“Our wish is for the federal government to set some regulations that will keep us happy and safe. That’s what we want.”
Burkart said the current pot-dispensing operations have not necessitated the type of intervention police displayed last year in working with insurance companies to evict entrepreneur Kyle Lindroos from two locations.
Burkart said citizens concerned about unsavoury characters and unlawful activity in the area around these dispensaries needn’t worry.
“We will follow up with these dispensaries to ensure they’re not doing anything outside of what the courts are allowing them to do. Anything outside those parameters we’ll be enforcing.”
Kozak said a longer term strategy for addressing these dispensaries is in the works, but will have to wait until after the federal election.
“We’re in a bit of a bind. There are some people in the community who are very in favour of dispensaries, and that reflects the diversity of opinions in our community. As with anything, in times of change legislation is often way behind social movements, and it takes time for these things to move forward,” she said.
“The police will be coming forward with a proposal — they’re in the same situation council is — and we’re all waiting to hear what the federal government says.”
Burkart said anyone concerned doesn’t have to worry because police are well aware of the situation.
“Right now they’ve tightened up, to be honest, and the courts are requiring some caution. So for the moment we’re sitting on our hands.”
But anyone with complaints should call them right away.
“Any violations we’ll be investigating and enforcing.”
The Nelson Compassion Club did not return a message. Cannaclinic declined to be interviewed on the record.
The Kootenays Medicine Tree could not be reached before deadline.
(A previous version of this story neglected to mention the Kootenays Medicine Tree dispensary.)