With files from Bill Metcalfe
Rossland’s first marijuana dispensary opened its door last week.
Rossland Dispensary is the first business of its kind in the Golden City, opening the same week that Nelson city council moved forward with an amendment to prohibit marijuana dispensaries in all zones of Nelson. The Queen City currently has seven dispensaries, all of which operate without a business license, since Nelson won’t issue them to illegal businesses. But the City of Rossland has taken a different approach, and Rossland Dispensary is operating with a business license.
“Our stance is as it’s a retail business — that’s how we classify it — the city bylaws that relate to it are … a business license bylaw and a zoning bylaw, and none of the city’s bylaws — either the zoning or the business license — specifically state that a business is required to be federally legal,” says Stacey Lightbourne, planner and GIS technician for the City of Rossland. “So we have taken the position that because our bylaws don’t say anything about it, it’s not up to us to enforce a federal law.”
Before opening his business, Jeff Weaver, owner of Rossland Dispensary, approached the mayor who referred him to city staff, who then researched how other municipalities were handling dispensaries. “Some had refused to issue business licenses on the basis that it’s not federally legal, and in most of those cases they actually had something written in their business license bylaw that stated that,” says Lightbourne. Nelson was one of those municipalities. But although the dispensaries aren’t licensed and may soon be prohibited through zoning, Nelson hasn’t done anything to shut them down either. Nor have Nelson police.
“If we were to find that they are selling to clients for non-medical use or to those that claim medical use but have not gone through the proper federal process, we could certainly enforce, which could include a search through the search warrant process,” Nelson’s police chief Paul Burkart recently told the Nelson Star.
Weaver also spoke with the Trail RCMP detachment before opening, and while they certainly didn’t give him permission to operate in Rossland, he has no reason to believe they’ll be shutting him down, so long as he follows a few stipulations.
“First and foremost, no sale to minors. Absolutely no congregating around the establishment. There’s no smoking on the premises, or in and around the establishment. You have to have a medical prescription; we’re not just selling marijuana over the counter. You have to have a prescription from a health practitioner,” explains Weaver. “And number four, that we have good neighbour agreements with everyone in the building, and that I go and engage all of my neighbours that I can, and explain what I’m doing, which I’ve done.”
The City of Vancouver also has the stipulation that any dispensary be at least 300m from a school, but in Rossland, Weaver says that’s hard to do. All three of Rossland’s schools are located close to the downtown core — Rossland Dispensary is located in the old Velvet Hotel building (2197 Columbia Ave.), less than 300m from two schools, and approximately 400m from the third.
Weaver opened a dispensary in Rossland because he says he saw a need. “The need was there. I kind of watched what was happening in Nelson with a lot of excitement, and people were waiting for one here.”
He also acknowledged that the Liberal government’s announcement that it would introduce legislation legalizing marijuana in spring 2017 had something to do with it. “I’ve not been in this industry very long. I’m certainly risk adverse, so watching the Liberal government come to power I think gave people a little bit more leeway to work with the police, because they’re ultimately the people that are tolerating the dispensaries being opened,” he said.
“Everybody is hoping that the dispensary model will stick around. I think in British Columbia we have a better chance of that happening than any other province in Canada, because dispensaries have been established in this province for a very long time,” added Weaver. “We wanted to get in early, and kind of establish ourselves, and show the community that this is not anything to fear.”
Weaver is happy to speak with anyone who has questions or concerns about his business.