Nelson pot dispensaries applaud Anna Purcell

City councillor praised for changing her vote on controversial cannabis bylaw.

Nelson city councillor Anna Purcell listens to a presentation from the Kootenays Medicine Tree's Jim Leslie on Monday evening.

Something wasn’t sitting right with Anna Purcell.

The Nelson city councillor, who had listened to an hour of impassioned presentations on behalf of the burgeoning pot dispensary industry on Monday evening, was dwelling on what she heard and second-guessing her vote to approve a bylaw that aimed to regulate the industry.

“If you vote for something and then have second thoughts you have the ability to bring it back during the same meeting,” Purcell told the Star, days after she changed her mind and vote on the controversial bylaw.

“Technically because the meeting went so long that night, and it was adjourned but never closed, Wednesday was considered the same meeting.”

So she re-introduced the topic, a surprise for Mayor Deb Kozak and her fellow councillors. That decision led to a four-hour conversation and the overturned vote.

“What I heard loud and clear, not just at the meeting but also afterwards from the community, was that they didn’t feel brought along with that decision and that didn’t sit well with me,” said Purcell.

Purcell praised the process the city went through in attempting to regulate Airbnbs and short-term rentals in the city, and said the process followed for dispensaries was not as thorough.

“I think cannabis is at least as important as short-term rentals as an issue of broad public concern, and we really need to bring the community along for that conversation and that didn’t happen.”

Case in point: councillors were still confused about what the bylaw was going to accomplish on Monday.

“At the 11th hour is not the moment to explain the complexity,” she said. “It took us as a council a while to figure out what it meant. I don’t know how we can expect people to get it and trust in it when they’re feeling anxiety about being separated from a product that means something to them.”

All this being said, Purcell hasn’t changed her mind about the efficacy of the bylaw she voted for, but believes the point will probably become moot shortly when the federal government ultimately changes the law.

“I think it’s potentially useful as a tool but what I was feeling increasingly unsettled by was our lack of engagement,” she said. “And I’m not just talking pot proponents. There are lots of people who appear in many different ways, well-heeled middle class folks for whom cannabis is a part of their life, and they’re not necessarily going to show up to a public hearing.”

Local dispensaries and cannabis advocates are praising Purcell for her movement on the issue.

“I want to say thank you to Anna Purcell,” said Philip McMillan of the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club. “I was ecstatic. I think this is happening because she had time to absorb what was said on Monday evening.”

Howie Ross of Leaf Cross Health agrees.

“I thought it was a brave and very courageous move for Anna to rethink what she did. I understand she appreciates the value of the potential bylaw but she really understood the flaw in the process, and that was one of the biggest issues for us.”

Many present felt the vote should have been held on a different night than the vote to let councillors process what they heard. And they were disappointed by what they feel is backwards thinking.

“I survived John Dooley and Gary Exner, total right-wing mayors, so to think a progressive mayor like Kozak might shut me down? I couldn’t believe it,” said McMillan.

“It’s this weird thing where it seems like she was embarrassed of her endorsement from Sensible BC and ever since she has this thing where she doesn’t want to be the ‘Pot Mayor.’ It’s turned into an overcompensation.”

Jim Leslie of Kootenays Medicine Tree is hopeful for the future, and said the bylaw could have been hugely harmful.

“As it was currently worded the bylaw banned all cannabis-based businesses from all areas and Nelson and that does not logically line up with what city staff was trying to accomplish,” he said.

“For such an important issue that will affect so many local residents of Nelson and the region we do not need harsh anti-cannabis bylaw amendments. Instead what we need is a healthy public process, which involves all stakeholders in relation to regulating not just medical cannabis dispensaries but all cannabis-based businesses in a manner that does not stifle their growth but in fact supports their growth and in turn the local economy.”

According to Kozak, Purcell and Councillor Janice Morrison, council is committed to creating a stakeholders’ group to further study these issues.

Purcell’s takeaway from all this?

“Like it or lump it, it looks like we’re moving to legalization and that will bring up a lot of responses for people whether you like cannabis or don’t, use it or don’t, and that’s the first layer we need to get through. But it doesn’t change the fact legalization is coming, and we need to understand what we want as a community and move beyond a moralistic way of looking at it. It’s going to be legal.”

 

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