Nelson city council hopes changes to its business licence bylaw will help to chip away at the legal ambiguity around marijuana dispensaries.
The bylaw, previously unaltered since 1990, will now require a licensed business to be in compliance with local, provincial and federal laws. Mayor Deb Kozak says this puts the city in a position to better enforce the bylaw when the federal government comes out with new legislation on marijuana in the near future. The bylaw passed third reading and is still to be adopted at a future meeting. Its full text is attached below.
The new bylaw also add new fines for operating without a business licence: $150 for a first offence, $300 for a second offence, and $500 for a third. The bylaw contains a provision that each new day of an offence after a ticket is issued is a considered a separate offence with a renewed fine.
The city’s legislative manager Frances Long says that those tickets will be dealt with like traffic tickets.
“They have to appeal the ticket within the first two weeks and then they see the screening officer and the screening officer makes a decision. If the person is not satisfied and there is no resolution, they can request an adjudicator to hear the dispute.”
An alternative punishment for not having a business licence would be a $10,000 fine that could only be levied through a complex and expensive court procedure and would only be used in a extreme cases.
Long says the city can’t shut a business down. Only a court can do that.
Several dispensaries are operating in Nelson without business licences. Some have applied and been refused, Kozak says, because city hall wasn’t convinced their activities are legal. She said legal medical marijuana has special procedures that some dispensaries aren’t following, including the requirement that it be delivered by mail.
Councillor Valerie Warmington commented last week that some dispensaries may be legal businesses because medical marijuana is legal, but are operating in an illegal manner.
The city is waiting to see what the rules and regulations for dispensaries at the federal level will be, according to Kozak, once the new government follows through on its intention to legalize and regulate marijuana.
“The way we enact our bylaws,” she said, “is we educate first, then we enforce later. In this case, because of the uncertainty at the federal government level, if we did take the person to court, there is an expense, but we are unsure what the decision would be.”
She cited a recent court case (not in Nelson) in which a judge declined to shut an apparently illegal marijuana business down because the federal rules are so unclear.
Kozak said that for the time being the city simply needs “assurance that businesses are operating in a safe fashion. The police are monitoring pretty closely. We don’t want unregulated businesses selling to minors or operating near schools. The ones I am aware of are in the downtown core, visible, and easily monitored. Police are aware of the people who have opened them.”
Sgt. Nate Holt of the Nelson Police Department agrees and said they are awaiting direction from Health Canada.
”What does not go away is public safety. We have talked with all the dispensary owners. There are many business models there. Some work well and some don’t. We had one that was shut down because of neighbour complaints.”
Kozak said city council contains the full spectrum of opinions on dispensaries.
“We have some councillors who say we should close them all now, and others who say they know people who have benefited from medical marijuana. So we have had really intense discussions about this. I am proud of council for working through this and we are urging the federal government to act on this sooner rather than later.”
Business Licence Bylaw No. 3328