Nelson’s police chief says there are no plans to crack down on dispensaries that will stay open after cannabis is legalized Wednesday.
The Nelson Potorium, the Kootenay’s Medicine Tree, Leaf Cross Health Society and the Nelson Compassion Club will remain active, and technically illegal, without provincial or municipal approval to sell recreational cannabis. The Green Room Society meanwhile will suspend operations.
Earlier this month, city council decided to allow the five business licences granted to dispensaries to run their course through Dec. 31 instead of cancelling them as of Wednesday.
Chief Paul Burkart of the Nelson Police Department (NPD) said he was surprised by council’s decision, but considers recreational and medicinal use of cannabis to be independent activities.
He said he is concerned that people who need medicinal cannabis won’t be able to access it if the dispensaries are closed down.
“If there’s not a system there to supply these people again, I’m OK with [dispensaries] being open,” said Burkart. “The fact is it’s going to be legalized on Oct. 17. All it will affect is their ability to sell legalized marijuana and that’s not my concern.”
Burkart did, however, leave the door open to enforcement if dispensaries stay open after Dec. 31. Nelson police have already shut down one dispensary in the city. MMJ Canada was forced to close after five employees were arrested in March. Charges for those arrests are still pending federal approval.
“These dispensaries follow certain rules and aren’t getting involved in selling to youth and selling to people without proper licences and certification,” said Burkart. “Other than that, we’re going to keep an eye on them like we did with MMJ. They stepped over a line and we decided to enforce, and we did.”
Any enforcement within city limits is under the jurisdiction of the NPD and not the RCMP. Inspector Tim Olmstead of the Nelson RCMP said his officers plan to take a case-by-case approach in their own enforcement.
Recreational cannabis businesses will be regulated by the Ministry of Public Safety.
Representatives for the Nelson Potorium, the Green Room and Leaf Cross told the Star they have applied for recreational licences. If successful, they would then need municipal approval to sell recreational cannabis. City council will allow a maximum of five cannabis stores to open within city limits.
King Canna Medicinals, which still holds a business licence, closed its storefront in the summer and has not resumed operations since.
The Nelson Compassion Club, a non-profit society that has operated since 1999, does not have a business licence. The club’s founder and facilities director Philip McMillan said he has no intention of applying for provincial approval.
“This is a recreational bill, it has nothing to do with us. We’re staying strictly medicinal,” said McMillan.
Jim Leslie of the Kootenay’s Medicine Tree said he has applied for recreational approval, but that he may opt out in favour of remaining a medicinal dispensary.
“The business licence didn’t make us legal in the first place, it was more a method of control. So when the business licence is gone, nothing really changes,” said Leslie.
“We’re still giving constitutionally protected access to our medical cannabis patients, and we’ll continue to do so until either the date of provincial inspection with our non-medical retail application, or perhaps we push into the future if we decide not to go through with that process. But right now we are in that process.”
Just one B.C. government-run store located in Kamloops will be selling recreational cannabis as of Wednesday, although online sales will be available province-wide.