Someone at City Hall doesn’t like pot

A few years ago when escort services were all the rage in town (literally and figuratively), the city council of the day searched its bag of tricks in an attempt to rid the town of the moral and social scourge that, legally, it couldn’t do anything about.

It found business licence fees.

Exorbitantly high business licence fees were established for the sector. Not sure if it changed anything, but everyone felt better.

Now along comes the moral and social scourge of legalized cannabis and the city is back at it again, originally proposing a $5,000 business licence fee for any cannabis retailers and/or producers wishing to operate in the city when the substance becomes legal October 17.

Director of planning and development Ian Wells told council that the high fees were a “cost recovery model to deal with the cost of bylaw services, policing and public education.”

It was surprising council wasn’t given a showing of Reefer Madness to get an example of what kind of thing goes on at these places of ill repute, dens of iniquity, and other such places of moral depravity.

Thankfully, Wells’ reasons for the crazy high (pun intended) fees fell apart piece by piece at the city council meeting.

First it was revealed that business licence fees for liquor outlets, which cannabis retails outlets are wrongly compared to, are around $300 and, not surprisingly, have bylaw services and policing issues from time to time.

So why the discrepancy?

Wells’ answer was that fees for liquor outlets are going to be reviewed next year. That should send a chill through every liquor establishment owner in town. If the city is looking at $5,000 for pot dispensaries, then one would think liquor outlets will have to be in the same range or higher. Yikes …  a $300 to $5,000 fee hike? Election issue anyone?

Then, after Coun. Brian Skakun, put forward a motion to set the fee at $1,000 for both retailers and producers, Wells admitted that the costs to the city to police producers is far less than the cost for retailers.

That makes sense, but why then did he suggest setting the business licence fee for both at $5,000 in the first place? Wouldn’t it be fairer to set the producers’ fee lower in the first place? Hmmm.

The $5,000 fee seems more of a ‘we don’t like cannabis so we’re going to throw roadblocks up wherever we can’ move than a ‘let’s deal with this new sector fairly and respectfully,’ one.

Skakun called the fee “unfair and excessive.” He’s right. Thankfully council agreed to set the fee at $1,000. It should come down even more and be in line with other fees, but one step at a time.

Legalized cannabis is coming, like it or not. And the more we continue to treat retailers and producers like a pariah, the more they will gravitate to the fringes, which is exactly what legalization is trying to change.