Now that a second medical marijuana dispensary has opened on Baker St., bringing the local count to six, Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski believes it’s time to embrace the burgeoning industry.
“There are companies that are well down the road to being able to produce commercial quantities of medical-grade marijuana, and the whole thing seems to have gone into a stop mode until the Liberal government figures out how how to move forward,” Stetski told the Star.
“We’re stuck in Never Never Land here.”
But the local cannabis industry seems to be picking up steam regardless, with the Nelson Potorium joining five other existing storefront dispensaries in the downtown core.
‘The concept is to be inviting’
Potorium owner Chris Campbell has an adult son who suffers from severe epilepsy, which is why she originally started investigating cannabis as a medicine.
The process of acquiring the CBD oil she uses to treat her son’s seizures was frustrating at times, and at one point she thought she might have to move to Colorado, where marijuana has already been legalized. She ultimately sourced products from Vancouver and elsewhere, but now wants to make sure residents can find these products locally.
“I hope to make it inviting for people who’re a little unsure about cannabis and would like information.”
Her storefront is swank, with a display case featuring nuggets of marijuana arranged on mirrored stands like expensive jewelry. In a sly touch, a large black and white image shows a pair of befuddled cops examining a marijuana plant.
“Most dispensaries have been put together on a dime budget because of the uncertainty around whether they can exist or not,” Campell said. “I wanted to present something that shows we’re here to stay.”
She’s not using tinted windows or attempting to hide her business in any way.
“I think it’s about normalizing our industry. We’re just like any other store on Baker St.”
‘Why are we still arresting people?’
Potorium employee Kaleigh Herald began working in the cannabis industry in Vancouver two years ago, and has since moved to Nelson and become the founding Kootenay chapter chair of Women Grow, a cannabis non-profit.
She believes the time for government regulation is now.
“I was in Vancouver when that turbulent gray area market just exploded there. We went from 10 to 100 [dispensaries] in like two years, and the lack of regulation led to an unsafe industry.”
Campbell agrees, and wants to set a new standard locally.
“We need to make sure our products are being produced in FoodSafe areas. I want to have our products tested. We need to up our game.”
But while their operation continues to exist in plain sight, people are still being arrested for possession — which incenses Herald.
“There have been 24,000 cannabis-related arrests that have occurred since Trudeau’s been elected, and that’s more than in 2014. Why are we still arresting people for this?”
Locally, the Nelson Police Department has promised to keep an eye on how the dispensary situation progresses but hasn’t intervened significantly since helping to twice evict a fledgling dispensary in 2015.
Recently Leaf Cross Health moved from its original location at Urban Legends in the 500 block of Baker St. into a larger location next to Gaia Rising in the 300 block. Though Nelson isn’t granting them business licenses, the dispensaries have already begun collecting federal taxes.
‘This whole thing is in total chaos’
Stetski thinks the Liberals are dragging their feet on moving forward with marijuana legalization, and said they’ve ignored NDP calls to decriminalize the plant in the meantime.
“The federal government could have done that five months ago and they chose not to,” he said. “This is putting both entrepreneurs and the public into a state of confusion.”
The morning he spoke with the Star, Stetski was in parliament as the Liberals announced the rolling out of a new legalization task force.
“What that looks like, nobody knows. But we do know nothing is going to happen until March 2017.”
Stetski has tangled with the marijuana industry in the past, as the mayor of Cranbrook, and believes the federal government is putting local municipalities in an unenviable position.
“This whole thing is in total chaos. Marijuana needs to be decriminalized now, and we as the NDP are proposing that those who have been jailed for simple possession should have their records expunged.”
He accused Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould of making the situation worse.
“She has said current laws continue to apply until the law changes. According to that, even possession is something police forces could and should be charging, if you’re going to take the minister at her word.”
But that’s becoming increasingly hard to do, he said.
“From the perspective of a local police chief, you would have to wonder why you would waste your members’ time to deal with possession at all.”
A passion for cannabis
Although Nelson has relied economically on logging, mining and trades industries that weren’t especially female-friendly in the past, Herald and Campbell believe the cannabis industry is a perfect milieu for women.
“It can be very empowering for women,” said Campbell. “Many women in the industry have children so this is something where they can pick their hours, work from home.”
Herald believes other women could benefit from the opportunities she’s been given.
“I see a huge place for women in this industry. The cannabis industry is very female-friendly, and in Nelson specifically it seems like everyone’s appreciative of everyone from the women growers to the female caregivers to the extractors.”
It’s not just women who benefit, she said.
“We’re also seeing it’s not just about women, it’s different ethnic and age groups. This is an all-encompassing industry that’s great to be part of.”
‘I would love to educate the community’
Campbell is frustrated about the stigma that continues to exist around cannabis, and “the existing attitudes that come from misinformation.”
“I think education is what we need. I would love to educate the community about what we can provide and what cannabis can do.”
Though the Potorium does sell typical joints, they also sell products such as suppositories, pills, topical creams and other derivatives that give people alternatives to smoking.
They’re also making sure to source their products locally.
“I’m optimistic about our government. I’m very excited,” said Campbell. “I know we’re still in limbo, but I see a lot of changes happening and they’re mostly positive.”
From here, she plans to grow.
“We’re just at the ground level of this budding industry,” said Campbell.