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Bylaw deals Compassion Club out of the picture as cannabis regulations handed down

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
May 7th, 2017

Only five of the city’s seven medical cannabis business licence applications made the cut under the new Medical Cannabis Business Licence Bylaw, with one long-time business left on the outside looking in.

On Monday night Nelson city council flexed the muscle of its newly minted bylaw and determined which of the seven applicants for the six available medical cannabis licences would be granted a pass.

The Kootenay’s Medicine Tree, Leaf Cross Health Society, Green Room Society, Nelson Potorium and Medicinal Mary Jane were approved for licencing by council, but the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club (NCCC) — which has operated in the city for 18 years — and the Cana Clinic were not.

The move shocked NCCC manager Philip McMillan, who rose from his seat after the decree was delivered and exclaimed, “What a joke” as he left city council chambers.

Outside the council room McMillan explained he had been previously told not to apply right away for a variance — the NCCC is contending several points — but to wait until after council’s decision to do so. So when the NCCC was not approved he felt misinformed.

“I will be applying for a variance now,” he said.

The NCCC has only one person working at a time (the bylaw requires two people), and it does not meet the signage requirements for window transparency. As well, the Compassion Club sought an exemption from the $5,000 application fee.

As identified in a March 6 report to council, those who wished to operate a licensed medical cannabis dispensary in the city would be required to apply for a business licence, and the applications would be brought forward to council for approval. 

“If a variance is required to the Zoning Bylaw, the dispensary will need to apply for a temporary use permit after they are an approved applicant,” read the city staff report to council. 

Of the seven that applied — one was a new business to be located in Nelson Commons — only three applications met all of the bylaw requirements. The Kootenay’s Medicine Tree still requires removal of some of the signage on their front window and door, while Leaf Cross Health Society also requires removal of the opaque film on their windows and doors. 

All of the existing medical cannabis operations were inspected by the city building

inspector, Nelson Fire and Rescue Services and bylaw enforcement. Several outstanding safety requirements were identified for each site.

The seventh application was for a proposed business in Nelson Commons, which was not inspected as the interior of the commercial unit had not been completed and the sale would only proceed if the applicant was successful in getting an approved business licence.

City staff undertook the review of the applications based on the requirements of the Business Licence Bylaw. Business licence bylaw requirements that must be met by each applicant include:

  • business operations must meet the definition of a cannabis-related business;
  • a valid business licence;
  • a security plan for the premises that, in the opinion of the Licence Inspector, describes adequate security measures to mitigate risk of theft or robbery at the premises. Security plan to include installation of video surveillance cameras that monitor all entrances and
  • exits and the interior of the business premises at all times;
  • installation and maintenance of an air filtration system that effectively minimizes odour impacts on neighbouring properties; and
  • the windows on street frontage of the premises are not blocked by translucent or opaque material, artwork, posters, shelving, display cases or similar elements.

In early March when the Medical Cannabis Business Licence Bylaw and Zoning Amendment Bylaw were approved a city bylaw officer hand delivered a letter (March 7) to each of the existing six medical cannabis dispensaries. 

The letter informed the business owners of the need to submit an application for a business licence before March 31, with a subsequent decision coming May 1.

The bylaw in detail

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 primary enforcement tool for the city is through Bylaw Notice Enforcement where the maximum penalty is $500. The bylaw does include language that indicates a maximum penalty of $10,000 may be applied as is permitted under the Offence Act — which is a general provision included in all bylaws.

Under the bylaw the city will permit the use of cannabis dispensaries in specified downtown zones (C1 and MU4), with “additional requirements limiting proximity to certain facilities and each other.”

The separation limit is 300 metres east and west in the C-1 zone, and 150 m. of separation north and south in the same zone; in the MU-4 zone it would be 150 m. separation as well as 80 m. separation from schools, youth and recreation centres.

People will be able to apply to council to vary the proximity requirements in the Zoning Bylaw if necessary. The fee for a minor development variance permit will be either $500 or $750 depending on whether one or two variances are required. 

There is also a cap of six licences for cannabis dispensaries in the city. 

The security provisions presented in the bylaw are the same as in the other regulating communities bylaws, a city staff report noted, which is also common practice in liquor stores and pharmacies. 

In addition to beefing up security, cannabis-related businesses must not “allow a person under the age of 19 on the premises unless that person is accompanied by a parent or a legal guardian.”

The existing cannabis dispensaries will be allowed to continue to operate until their application and any necessary variances are considered by council. If approved, a business license will be issued. 

The bylaws would be in place until the federal and provincial governments regulate both recreational and medicinal marijuana.

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