When cannabis is legalized, how will the City of Nelson decide between the many business applications it will probably get? After all, Nelson is only going to allow a maximum of five stores: two stores downtown, one on Nelson Ave/ Highway 3A, one in the Industrial/ Lakeside Drive area, and one in Railtown.
City council and staff expect far more cannabis applications than that, and those could include the current medical cannabis outlets applying for recreational cannabis licences.
Prospective recreational cannabis retail businesses must first apply to the provincial government, which will screen applications to ensure that basic requirements are met. These include background and criminal checks on the applicants and verifying that the applicant holds a minimum 12-month lease for the proposed premises.
Then the province will refer the application to the municipality, which will see if the application meets the zoning requirements and if it does, city staff will apply a scoring matrix that was recommended to council by city planning staff. It was discussed at some length by council on Monday night before they approved it.
The scoring matrix is shown in the chart below.
Applications for recreational cannabis municipal business licences would be reviewed quarterly. Staff would rate candidates and refer the top scorers to council for a final decision.
City planner Alex Thumm explained that if two applicants scored high and within ten per cent of each other, they would be decided by lottery.
Councillor Michael Dailly disagreed with the scoring matrix and said that some of the items on the matrix were subjective and therefore should be decided by lottery.
“I get it that staff should score them on security plan and fire prevention and odor control, but I think we are going into a grey area when you are talking about successful business background. How do you assign a number to how successful someone has been? Also exterior design and facade, we have other ways to deal with that.”
Councillor Robin Cherbo supported Dailly in this view.
City manager Kevin Cormack, arguing in favour of the matrix that he and his staff had devised, said similar scoring matrices are already used successfully by the city, and other governments and companies, in deciding on a number of things including staff hiring, requests for proposals, and hiring consultants.
Dailly introduced an amendment, proposing that more of the factors in the decision framework be decided by lottery, but when his amendment came to a vote it failed.
Councillor Valerie Warmington said she agreed somewhat with Dailly but she does not like lottery decisions because she thinks council should retain more control and leave less to chance.
Warmington said she hopes licences will go to local business and wondered why this was not one of the criteria.
“Who are these licences going to go to? Are they going to large corporations that are going to swoop in, or to people in our region?”
Thumm explained that he has looked into that and found that the city can’t legally favour local businesses just because they are local.
“Given the free trade situation in Western Canada, we have to treat every business from Manitoba westward equally.”
He was referring to the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, which came into effect in 2010 and under which the city could be challenged for giving local businesses priority.
In addition to the criteria already discussed, council also passed a number of requirements for new applicants to post their intentions on their building and in the paper, and to invite public comment.
The selection system was put forward as an amendment to the city’s Land Development Procedures Bylaw and will be brought back for final adoption in July.