Nelson council will place a moratorium on the opening of recreational cannabis retail businesses in Nelson until July 2018. At its Monday meeting, council made this commitment in anticipation of as-yet-unknown provincial and federal rules about recreational marijuana cultivation and sales.
Council also decided to set up a process in January and February to ask the public what it thinks about recreational cannabis businesses in Nelson.
“Do you want recreational cannabis dispensaries, where might they be, how many, what should the bylaws include in terms of consumption? And we want to hear from a broad spectrum of the community,” Mayor Deb Kozak said.
The moratorium and the public consultation will be about recreational cannabis businesses and not the six medical cannabis dispensaries in Nelson. The number of those dispensaries is already capped at six by a council decision earlier this year.
Council was concerned that a potential retailer might obtain a provincial licence to sell recreational cannabis before Nelson had made its own rules, then set up shop in any part of Nelson zoned commercial, which would include the downtown, Nelson Avenue, Front Street, and Railtown.
City planner Pam Meirau told council she has heard from people who are planning to lease downtown space.
“My concern is that because these businesses are so lucrative, lease rates will increase, increasing the chance that other niche businesses go out of business,” she said. “What if a bunch of people come in leasing space in downtown Nelson?”
Kozak said if provincial regulations would seem to allow a business to set up anywhere within a commercial zone, then Nelson would be powerless to control this unless it has some regulations in place first.
The provincial government announced Tuesday that cannabis in B.C. will be sold through the liquor distribution branch, including both public and private sales outlets, and that the minimum age for purchase will be 19. The province will announce more rules early in the new year.
Under new federal laws, local governments will be able to regulate retail location and rules, business licencing, public consumption, land use and zoning, and enforcement.
Nelson’s moratorium will take the form of a zoning bylaw amendment that will come to a future council meeting. The amendment, if it passes, would prohibit a recreational cannabis business in any zone in the city until July 2018.
According to materials presented by city staff to council at Monday’s meeting, the goals of council’s public feedback process in January and February would be:
• to identify the number, location, and separation distances between retail cannabis outlets and gather feedback on where cannabis can be consumed;
• to obtain feedback from a diverse and broad cross section of the community, specifically those potentially most impacted by the legalization; and,
• to educate and inform residents on all aspects of the legalization of cannabis.
The city intends to hire a facilitator to organize consultations with the school board, parent advisory committees, Selkirk College, seniors’ groups, the local medical cannaibis industry, business groups, tourism groups, health agencies, police and bylaw enforcement, and social service agencies.
The city will also use a public feedback form that will look for the public’s thoughts on the regulations required for businesses operating within the city, regulations relating to public consumption, and regulations relating to personal cultivation. The form will exist both online and on paper.
There will also be a cannabis information page on the city’s website.
Findings from the consultation will be published in March. By June, council will have developed regulations based on the feedback.
Councillors Anna Purcell and Bob Adams voted against the combination of moratorium and public engagement process. Councillor Janice Morrison was absent.
Materials presented to council at its Monday meeting are attached below.