City staff have set an aggressive timetable for public debate over the future of cannabis sales and consumption in Nelson ahead of federal legalization this summer.
Feedback forms are set to be sent the week of Feb. 12 to every household and business within city limits. The survey, which needs to be returned to City Hall by Feb. 28, will be used by staff and council to help draft regulations in March.
That draft is hoped to be returned to the public in April, followed by at least two months of council debate prior to legalization, the date of which has not yet been set by the federal government.
Pam Mierau, the city’s planning manager, said Thursday she hopes residents understand how important their feedback is to the process.
“We want to create rules that work for everybody in this community and that reflect the wants and needs of people who live here,” she said. “It’s really important that people get out there, either come to out to these public sessions or definitely fill out that feedback form and get it back to us.”
Mierau said the latest public consultation won’t be bound to previous decisions made by city council about the six medical dispensaries currently operating in Nelson.
In March 2017, city council voted to amend a zoning bylaw and adopt a business licence bylaw that would each allow local dispensaries to remain active at their current locations until federal legislation was introduced.
Then last month, council placed a moratorium on recreational cannabis sales, which is meant to prevent more businesses opening in Nelson before provincial and federal rules are made public.
All of those changes, however, could be completely re-written depending on the feedback given to city staff. Topics for discussion include:
• The amount of recreational businesses and medical dispensaries allowed to operate in Nelson, as well as where within city limits they are allowed to be built. Mierau said feedback given Thursday by local stakeholders suggested the current number of six dispensaries could be lowered.
• The Clean Air Bylaw, which currently says residents can’t smoke within seven metres of a public entrance, anywhere within local parks, School District 8 properties, Interior Health properties and at transit stops. Mierau said that bylaw could become more restrictive if called for by the public, and may require more bylaw enforcement officers.
• Where residents can plant cannabis on private land. Individuals will be allowed up to four plants growing either inside a home or on their property. If those plants should be visible from the sidewalk, Mierau said, is part of the debate.
In a presentation to media Thursday, staff said they had already consulted with five American communities in states where cannabis is legalized, and had reached out to 40 local stakeholder groups for consultation.
Mierau said there’s little precedent in B.C. outside Vancouver for how municipalities are preparing for legalization. A lot, she said, will depend on regulations decided on by the province, some of which were released Monday.
That announcement will also affect the six current dispensaries in Nelson, which Mierau said may need to suspend operations while they seek a provincial license.
“Our assumption is they will be treated like anybody else who is looking to set up a retail store here, and they’ll have to go through the same process, and they won’t have any advantage over anyone else,” she said. “But we’re not sure.”
Mierau said a seventh dispensary, the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club, has continued to operate without a licence. She added the city has begun issuing fines to the club and that council may eventually consider an injunction.
Public information sessions have been scheduled for Feb. 20th and 22nd at noon to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on both days at City Hall. Staff will also be available at Whitewater Ski Resort on Feb. 16 starting at 10 a.m., Kootenay Co-op on Feb. 24 at 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Chahko-Mika Mall on Feb. 24 at 1 to 3 p.m. Current updates and background information can also be found at nelson.ca/cannabis.