Council split on what to charge cannabis businesses

Brian Skakun is seeking his sixth term on city council.
Coun. Brian Skakun

If you’re thinking of cashing in on next month’s legalization of cannabis and set up shop in Prince George, the first thing you need to do in your business plan is set aside $1,000 for a business licence.

The good news is that the $1,000 price tag is less than the $5,000 recommended by city staff.

Council made some changes to business licensing bylaw Monday night to accommodate the federal legalization of cannabis, including the suggestion of a $5,000 licence. And that comes after a provincial $7,500 fee.

“This is a cost recovery model to deal with the cost of bylaw services, policing and public education,” said Ian Wells, director of planning and development, adding the charges in line with other municipalities.

The fee will apply to both retail and production facilities.

Coun. Brian Skakun, seconded by Coun. Garth Frizzell, put forward a motion to only charge $1,000.

“I think the $5,000 fee is unfair and excessive,” Skakun said. “I don’t think we need to compare ourselves to other communities. We have a lot of entrepreneurs in the community who want to step up and run legitimate businesses … We want to be able to take some business away from organized crime.”

He added the bylaw can be reviewed to see if it’s costing too much to monitor these businesses. Frizzell supported Skakun.

“I want to protect us by having a high fee, but the small businessperson in me is saying ‘look, this first year, we’re not going to get a flood of people and we’re uncertain what the revenues are going to be,’” said Frizzell, adding cannabis is new business sector. “If we’re going to foster small business, then let’s make this accessible.”

Coun. Albert Koehler said he simply does not agree with legalization.

“I’m totally against that we reduce the fee,” he said. “In my opinion we should go higher and make it difficult for anyone to get this stuff.”

Coun. Jillian Merrick said she is opposed to reducing the fee, pointing out the city is constantly dealing with policing issues.

“Our taxpayers will now be paying for the inspection of these businesses,” she said. “… I support the industry and look forward to its development, but I don’t think this is a wise or prudent decision.”

In the end, council decided to set the fee at $1,000 with Koehler, Merrick, and Coun. Susan Scott voting against the motion.