Council turns green as it considers business bylaw changes to deal with medical marijuana dispensaries
The growing proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Nelson not only prompted city council to roll up a change to its business licence bylaw, but it piped up two resolutions directed at upper levels of government to help deal with it.
Over the past year, several storefronts — at least five — selling medical marijuana have opened in Nelson, a city staff report to city council on Monday night read.
With these businesses operating in a “gray area” regarding regulation while the federal government considers legalizing marijuana, the opening of these storefronts has brought to the city’s attention deficiencies within its own Business Licence Bylaw that requires businesses to comply with existing federal, provincial and municipal laws, bylaws, regulations and codes in order to operate.
Council is now considering new legislation requiring businesses that carry on operations in Nelson, but do not comply with various governmental levels of law, bylaw, regulations and codes, to be subject to penalties under the city’s Bylaw Notice Enforcement bylaw. On Monday night at its regular meeting, council passed third reading on the bylaw.
“As well all know, we are all operating in a bit of a gray area when it comes to marijuana. Every city is handling this different,” said Mayor Deb Kozak.
“The position of Nelson city council has been: We do not want to be involved in regulating the marijuana business, the marijuana dispensaries. As local government that is not our purview.”
Coun. Michael Dailly questioned the spirit of the proposed legislation.
“So what is our intention when the time comes” for legalization, he asked, wondering if it was designed to keep the status quo until some direction was given from the federal government.
“I think what council is trying to do is provide some clarity as we move through this gray area,” said Kozak. “This is a bit of a new situation for us. We haven’t had to deal with this at local government level before in such an open fashion.”
And with entrepreneurs taking advantage of the fairly “relaxed climate” around marijuana legislation, what the city is seeking to do is provide some clarity and rules at the local level so that it has the ability to enforce when necessary.
“Police already have the ability to enforce,” she continued. “And, what we know is that one dispensary was closed down due to complaints and there was some question about whether or not it was operating in a medical marijuana fashion.”
She said the city was too small to pour resources into the issue of regulating medical marijuana dispensaries operating in an illegal fashion, so it was hoped the bylaw change would give some guidance and let people know “there were some rules around here.”
And there had to be some separation between medical and recreational marijuana, Kozak added.
Additional changes were made to the bylaw to provide clarity regarding:
- the powers of the business licence inspector;
- the city’s requirements for holding of a business licence;
- the payment of fees.
“If someone applies for a business and is contrary to federal, provincial or our own bylaws, we won’t issue a business licence,” said city director of corporate services Frances Long.
Depending on what damage is done, the city has the option to either write a bylaw notice for a penalty up to $500 or, for more serious infractions, the city has the option to proceed to court where a summary conviction could result in a penalty up to $10,000.
On being found guilty of an offence under the proposed bylaw, a person will be liable to pay a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or be subject to both.
If in default of payment of the fine a person could be subject to imprisonment for an additional term not exceeding six months under the Offence Act.
Kozak was quick to point out the bylaw change was not meant as an aggressive gesture toward medical marijuana dispensaries.
“The philosophy is, as with any of our bylaws, that we educate first. Bylaws are not meant to be punitive … It helps us be good neighbours to each other and good businesses,” she said. “But if there is non compliance, or complaints from the community, it gives us licence to act.”
The previous Business Licence bylaw was adopted in 1990 and contained references to old legislation, with no language with respect to penalties and enforcement.
The city is legally empowered with the authority to regulate business within corporate limits under section eight (fundamental powers) of the Community Charter.
The city’s building inspector is appointed as the business licence inspector as well.
The licence inspector may require that an applicant for a business licence provide proof of certification, approval or qualification required by a Federal, Provincial or Local Government Authority having jurisdiction over the business.
The requirement changes limit one licence per business per premise, the transferability of the licence and the requirement to adhere to federal and provincial laws that have jurisdiction over such businesses. The city may choose to prosecute offenders through the courts.
Of the four resolutions council passed Monday night, two dealt with the development of federal marijuana legislation. Council will be asking the Union of B.C. Municipalities to call for the integration of federal marijuana legislation with regional and local regulation.
The idea arose out of the Liberal Government of Canada’s public declaration of its intention to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana with creation of a federal/provincial/territorial task force.
With input from experts in public health, substance abuse and law enforcement, the task force will design a new system of marijuana sales and distribution with appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.
“What we are looking for is the federal government to work in tandem with provincial and local governments in formulating laws so that we have a say on what goes on in our communities,” said Kozak.
Council is also calling for its fair share of the revenue from the sale and distribution of legalized marijuana.
The new legal framework expected would not completely eliminate the costs associated with enforcement initiatives related to drugs in Canada, council felt, and, if anything, will be significantly reduced.
Council is asking the federal government for a sharing of the reduced enforcement costs with provincial and municipal governments, “given the marked impact that marijuana sales and distribution will have upon Canadian communities.”
The resolutions will be offered up for consideration at the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments’ annual general meeting to be held in Kimberley from April 27–29.