Nelson entered 2018 with an already established medical cannabis bylaw that specified how many dispensaries were allowed, where they could be located, and the security measures they were required to take.
The seven medical dispensaries in the city were illegal from a federal standpoint and their locations did not conform to the city’s bylaws, but the city nonetheless gave six of them business licences that were good until the expected federal legislation.
In February, faced with the prospect of legal recreational cannabis sales in the city later in the year, council sent a survey to 4,959 households and 686 businesses in the city, asking what citizens wanted this new world to look like. The response rate was 32 per cent for households and 27 per cent for businesses.
Among the notable responses were that 75 per cent of responders thought the city should impose a maximum number of recreational cannabis stores and the same percentage thought smoking cannabis should be banned in public places.
Based on the survey results and other public consultations, council came up with a set of recreational cannabis regulations that included a maximum of five stores in specified areas of town, separation distances between stores and youth-related activities, maximum floor areas, and other limitations.
In March, five employees were arrested at the MMJ dispensary and in April the city revoked MMJ’s business licence. The arrested employees have yet to be formally charged.
Council then placed a moratorium on the opening of recreational cannabis shops until such time as provincial and federal regulations were in place.
Given that they would only grant five recreational licences, how would council decide which applications to green light?
In May, they approved a business licence selection system, using a scoring matrix with 10 criteria.
In October, the federal government legalized recreational cannabis and banned the sale of medical cannabis. The medical dispensaries in Nelson asked council to allow them to remain in business despite the risk of federal prosecution until the end of December, and council consented.
Three of the dispensaries chose to remain open and are now applying for recreational licences.
The above-mentioned scoring matrix deducts up to 20 points (out of 100) if the “owners failed to comply with previous city regulations.” One of those regulations prohibits continuing to operate as a dispensary beyond Dec. 31.
In December, three of the dispensaries asked council to waive that point penalty in the event that they apply for a recreational licence, and council agreed.