Nobody seems to be able to keep track of how many marijuana dispensaries there currently are in Nelson. Until recently there were seven operating downtown, but Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak’s pretty sure it’s up to nine now.
“Council wants to see a healthy, diverse business community but we don’t want to see a whole line of pot shops down Baker St. the same way you wouldn’t want a whole block of dentist and doctor’s offices,” Kozak told the Star, in the days leading up to a public hearing on marijuana dispensaries at 6 p.m. on Monday.
“This bylaw will give the city control over how and where these businesses can operate in preparation for the legalization of the industry.”
After the hearing council will vote on a zoning bylaw amendment that will prohibit dispensaries in the city, since the current bylaw does not mention them specifically. It will define geographical zones of the city and delineate what activities may take place in them.
Kozak knows the dispensary situation is escalating quickly — two years ago there was only one compassion club in Nelson — but she said people working within the marijuana industry have been co-operative and non-confrontational thus far, which explains why they haven’t been forced to intervene earlier.
“We’ve watched it evolve in our own community and we’ve been keeping a close eye on the situation,” said Kozak. “But I’m surprised. Who would’ve thought we would have nine? I don’t think any of us anticipated that was going to happen.”
So once the bylaw goes to a vote, zoning staff with the city will be heading out into the community to talk to the dispensaries. They will have the ability to levy fines and restrict where dispensaries can operate, but Kozak said they don’t aim to have an antagonistic approach.
“There’s been no talk of intervention yet. I don’t see it as a closed conversation. We would be in conversation with the larger community, and they deserve to have a say. That’s just how it has to work.”
Kozak hasn’t yet set foot in any of the marijuana dispensaries, but said they haven’t dramatically altered the vibe of Nelson or affected business as usual. But she acknowledged the influx of entrepreneurs looking to “get in at the ground floor.”
“Make no mistake: there is a lot of money to be made, and the city is looking at that as well.”
But currently the city isn’t issuing business licenses to dispensaries, as they’re doing in cities such as Vancouver and Kimberley, and Kozak has heard from a number of concerned residents and business owners who are annoyed by that fact.
“I can empathize with that concern,” said Kozak. “They’ve got a good point there, but we’re kind of between a rock and a hard place. We took legal advice and the advice of our staff not to issue business licenses, but that doesn’t preclude us from acting in the future to level the playing field.”
That being said, she hasn’t heard much controversy over the bylaw so far.
“The information released after the last council meeting around the purpose of the bylaw and what it hoped to achieve, I think most people heard that and thought it made sense as the next step to take for our community.”
Her goal: balance.
“We want to have a good balance of businesses in our downtown, and to achieve that we need to have solid planning in place.”
If you can’t attend the public hearing on Monday, written responses will also be accepted.