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Petition asks for the recall and amendment of ‘punitive’ Medical Cannabis Business License Bylaw

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
March 10th, 2017

Nelson’s “restrictive and punitive” cannabis business bylaw could force one of the leading cannabis health clinics in the city to close if changes aren’t made to the new legislation, says the Kootenay’s Medicine Tree executive director.

Jim Leslie said the Kootenay’s Medicine Tree (KMT) is facing financial hardship in the face of new cannabis business licence regulations the city has just adopted (Monday night), and it has mounted an online petition in response.

He pointed to the high cost of business licence fees for cannabis-related enterprises — set by council at $5,000 per year — as onerous, as well as the city dictating double staffing levels and a high degree of security.

“This license fee may force us to close our Nelson dispensary, which threatens the current services we offer Nelson’s most ill residents and the community at large,” he said.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult to stay open, bottom line. We want to protect the services we offer here and the good work we have done over the last two years … but quite frankly our survival is in jeopardy.”

The temporary use applicant fee will also be an added cost —with another decision forthcoming from council — because KMT is in violation of the bylaw with two other cannabis dispensaries.

These types of costs — variance fee applications, the business licence fee, an increase to the staffing — add up but KMT’s client base is not increasing, said Leslie. He said the clinic will not embark upon a client drive, or boost prices to shore up the bottom line.

“So what happens is you get an increase to your business costs, which can be quite substantial,” he said. “We will continue to do what they do and we hope that doesn’t hurt us and, unfortunately, it’s looking like it will right now.”

KMT had been gathering a petition online and in-house, and delivered it to city council Monday night. The 107-named petition asked council that “in lieu of evidence to specifically support the need for a $5,000 business license fee, we are asking council to recall the bylaw and add a more reasonable fee ($1,000 per year) for those cannabis businesses that can show and prove community service and a medical focus beyond simply the provision of cannabis over the counter to those with qualifying medical documents.”

The petition will stay open, said Leslie, as KMT continues to advocate for a lower business licence fee as the country transitions into federal legislation.

He thought the $5,000 per year business license fee “was done without showing any direct evidence that creating a new business license category and inspection regime for medical cannabis dispensaries” would require the cost the accumulated fees ($30,000) from six Nelson dispensaries.

According to a city staff report, the $5,000 fee the city will be charging for a dispensary business licence was established to provide for the regulation of the dispensaries solely by the city and reflects the regulatory and enforcement responsibility — or the costs — incurred by the city.

Some cities, such as Vancouver, charge $30,000.

“(The business licence) is a direct reflection of the amount of time and energy everybody — staff, police, council — has put into this. It is not meant to be punitive at all,” said Mayor Deb Kozak on Monday.

Business licence fees in Nelson range from $5 per day for a busker, to $1,040 for retail sales space in a mall over 10,000 square feet. Although Vancouver does charge $30,000 per year for a cannabis business license, Leslie noted the Lower Mainland city did not have a blanket policy for assessing fees.

“(Vancouver) recognizes the difference between average dispensaries and those that were specifically focused on serious medical patients, and allows a second tier business license to those who prove a medical focus for $1,000 per year,” he said.

“(The business licence) needs to be something that is not punitive to groups that are looking to be good (providers) of the service to those that need it. In a smaller area like Nelson, with a smaller footprint, we also need the fees to be respective of the businesses’ ability to be viable.”

Leslie said KMT offers the following services for free in Nelson to those at risk due to the steep increase in operating costs that come from the bylaw fee:

  • Medical Cannabis: History and Human Health course offered to members of Learning In Retirement at Selkirk College (four semesters running);
  • Tours to local physicians, nurses and medical school students of the KMT dispensary and explanation of product use, safety and sourcing.
  • Outreach to senior citizens in care homes; support to doctors and nurses on staff;
  • Cannabis product selection and dose/safe use consultations and ongoing support to qualified medical patients;
  • Educational presentations on cannabis science for local clubs and groups (Nelson Gyro Club, University Women’s Club, Nelson Unitarian Spiritual Centre, neighbourhood groups).

Leslie said KMT received referrals directly from cancer clinics, pediatric oncologists (childhood cancer), pediatric neurologists (childhood epilepsy, autism) from across Canada “for our established reputation for specific dosing plans and serious treatment of our most fragile referrals: children and senior citizens.

The petition can be signed online at the Kootenay Medicine Tree.

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