Some B.C. towns not high on pot stores

In Nelson you can get tacos and marijuana in one stop. In Merritt, you may get six RCMP cruisers and a search warrant

In Nelson there are now a half a dozen marijuana stores, one next to a taco restaurant and another conveniently located beside an auto body shop.

Nelson city manager Kevin Cormack got laughs from his audience with his description of the long-standing acceptance of pot use in the laid-back Kootenay community of 10,000 people. He spoke to a forum at this week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria, describing a downtown with more bead shops than bars.

But not everyone was laughing.

Merritt city manager Shawn Boven outlined council’s response when a self-proclaimed medical pot dispensary opened its doors this summer, its owners saying they don’t need a business licence for a “compassion club.”

Merritt’s bylaw officer started issuing daily $100 violation tickets, and municipal staff called a meeting with the local RCMP to see what they would do. Five officers turned out and said they would need a couple of weeks to investigate. They would also need legal advice, although everyone agrees retail pot sales remain illegal until next year when the Justin Trudeau government has promised to legalize and regulate it.

Merritt council isn’t engaged in a moral crusade, Boven said. They just want laws evenly enforced, and on Sept. 7 they were. The store was raided and charges of possession for the purpose of trafficking were recommended.

Port Alberni went the regulatory route, requiring dispensaries to stay 1,000 metres apart, outside the main tourist area, and no more than 300 metres from any school. When one violated the limit, it was ticketed and the owners challenged the ticket in court, said Coun. Ron Paulson.

Two days after a judge upheld the Port Alberni bylaw, police executed a search warrant on that store and the owner’s house, where a sawed-off shotgun was among items seized. It’s a reminder of possible gang involvement when “you don’t know where the stuff is coming from,” Paulson said.

Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak clarified that her administration isn’t ignoring dispensaries, where medicines with names such as “Shark Shock” are sold and one store features a poster mocking police. Schools and minors are protected and two stores have been shut down, Kozak said.

Fernie Coun. Jon Levesque said his council isn’t permitting stores until Ottawa sorts out its new regulations, and asked what other communities would suggest to get ready.

Advice included determining whether tourist areas should be allowed, what should be charged for a business licence ($5,000 a year is the consensus) and what if any zoning should be established. Just because a product is legal doesn’t mean a community has to accommodate the business, the forum was told.