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City begins public engagement process for cannabis

More information will be made available this month by the city, including the launch of an information page at www.nelson.ca. — The Nelson Daily

The city’s public engagement process for cannabis has begun and, although it is headed in the right direction says a proponent of the plant, the steps the municipality will need to take to get to June with a new regulating bylaw in place must continue to be careful, considerate and well informed.

The city seems to be well aware of their role — zoning, business licencing and home cultivation — said Brenton Raby, but they still need to be mindful of adding too many elements to the existing bylaws.

He said the current Clean Air Bylaw — into which the city plans to include cannabis — does nothing to address other real concerns such as idling vehicles and commercial smells (coffee roasting, beer brewing, meat/fryer venting, etc.).

“I believe that the city needs to be mindful not to have too many bylaws enforcing restrictions on this plant while not doing enough to enforce the true need of regulations,” Raby explained.

Even the Interior Health Authority Protection Branch, the enforcers of the provincial Smoke and Vape Act, acknowledged a real difference in the harm of tobacco versus cannabis, he pointed out.

“Can a city the size of Nelson pay for enforcement of subjective bylaws like ‘nuisances associated with odours and visibility’ when they cannot even enforce the bylaw requiring people to shovel the sidewalk, which can be a real hazard?” Raby asked.

The city has to be mindful about going too far as the cannabis community can rely on court precedents about the lack of cannabis harms, and can challenge the city in court, he said.

Raby explained that one of the key points in the public process needs to be that councillors and city staff read and understand the material and really consider the benefits of cannabis and overcome any personal prejudices.

“The City of Nelson has opportunities to encourage and promote reasonable cannabis use and business, not only regulate and enforce onerous bylaws and prejudices,” he said.

“And as this is a process I hope that the city staff and council are prepared to continue to expand their own knowledge and can be relied upon to consider all voices not just those shouting the loudest.”

He also noted that the city was missing any reference so far to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charter is what has got the cannabis conversation this far, Raby explained.

“It has been proven that cannabis is not harmful like tobacco and alcohol,” he said. “Alcohol kills and destroys families; cannabis is uplifting and fun. Cannabis is not ‘plutonium.’

“First and foremost they seem to forget it is a plant and that the money and fears are all projections with little base in reality.”

On the road

Last March the city approved a business licence bylaw and zoning amendments, requiring those who wanted to operate a licensed medical cannabis dispensary in the city to apply for a business licence, and the applications had to be brought forward to city council for approval.

As well, if an applicant did not meet the separation distance, they would need to apply for a temporary use permit after they became an approved applicant.

Council approved five business licences in May and an additional business licence in June, for a total of six business licences. In August five temporary use permits were approved for businesses that did not meet the separation distance. There are currently six medical cannabis dispensaries operating in Nelson with a business licence.

City council passed a resolution approving a public engagement strategy for cannabis in early January night during its regular meeting, noting that a professional facilitator has already been retained to work with the city’s Development Services staff to prepare a detailed engagement strategy for cannabis legalization.

In order to lay the groundwork for a proper public process and gather information for Nelson-specific regulations, the city had adopted a moratorium on cannabis retail locations in order to allow time for the engagement process to gestate prior to adopting new regulations.

It is anticipated that the provincial government will provide more information on provincial regulations for cannabis outlets by the end of January or early February.

The city will develop regulations regarding:

  • retail sales: zoning and business licencing to determine where cannabis stores may be located;
  • public consumption: identifying where consuming cannabis will legally be allowed in Nelson; and
  • personal cultivation: providing rules to ensure public safety and limited nuisances.

The cannabis strategy will involved three major steps, culminating in late April:

  • Information sharing and spreading the word

Beginning in late January media, social media and the city’s own website will to start an information campaign on cannabis legalization, with federal, provincial and municipal government roles laid out as well as how residents can have a voice in the process.

  • Seeking formal feedback via forms and written submissions

Beginning Feb. 1 small group meetings and presentations will be held with city-identified stakeholder groups in order to educate a range of stakeholders on the process to date, along with information on potential regulations and how each group can voice their opinions. A set of questions that the city is looking for feedback on will be provided.

  • Reporting back and informing next steps

In early April 2018 a public meeting will be held as well as two small group meetings to report back on the feedback received during the course of the engagement process.

Part of the process will include a city-wide mail out of a feedback form that is expected to contain questions on the location, consumption and cultivation of cannabis, as well as background information and the URL to the city’s website to obtain further information.

“All reports and meetings as the bylaw is being drafted also (should) be open to the public,” Raby said. “This should include the results of the city's legal review of the material towards drafting the by laws.”

He called for transparency and participation throughout the whole process, including drafts of bylaw.

The regulations will be drafted based on community feedback, current community planning and existing council bylaws (such as the Clean Air Bylaw) and presented back to the community in April.

After that bylaw amendments will be developed, with the goal to have all of the necessary regulations in place prior to July 2018 when the federal government will release its legislation.

More information will be made available this month by the city, including the launch of an information page at www.nelson.ca.