Village of Pemberton (VOP) council has opted to start the process of reducing business licence fees for cannabis industry ventures.
At its March 2 meeting, council discussed the report from legislative assistant Gwendolyn Kennedy during Committee of the Whole and voted to start the bylaw amendment process during the regular council meeting.
Kennedy’s report outlined that, before passing its fee structure in early 2019, council focused on cost recovery when wading into allowing the cannabis industry to operate in town with intent to review it down the line. Council received a pair of letters from local businesses requesting a review, addressing one in December and a second in January.
The fees, originally established in 2019, are $5,000 for a standard cannabis producer or for a retail business, or $2,500 for a micro producer with a $1,000 approved application processing fee for retail businesses.
Kennedy’s report recommended reducing the licence fees to the standard rate of $150, plus application fees of $1,000 for production facilities and $1,000 plus costs such as advertising and public consultation.
Council elected to follow most of Kennedy’s recommendations when drafting the bylaw amendment, approving changes to application fees, but opting to take an incremental approach to annual fees, halving them for 2022 and bringing them in line with other industries for 2023.
Councillor Ted Craddock was concerned about reducing fees too quickly.
“With such a short time in business, we really don’t know what the costs are going to be with these operations,” he said during the meeting. “I’m always trying to be a little cautious that we’re covering any potential issues that we haven’t run into at this time.”
Chief administrative officer Nikki Gilmore recalled that while reviewing retail business licences was “administratively burdensome” at the outset, only two stores are permitted in town and both are currently operating. Manager of corporate and legislative services Sheena Fraser does not foresee major costs associated with the industry in the future.
“Going forward, I don’t see that there’s a lot other than our regular bylaw review and keeping track of day-to-day operations or dealing with issues as they may or may not come up,” Fraser said.
Coun. Amica Antonelli also favoured a slower, steadier reduction of fees.
“Some of the outcomes of these shops, so that includes fuelling people’s addictions and youth entry into drug use, aren’t really paid for directly by municipal taxes, but that doesn’t mean that these aren’t expenses that we’re all paying for,” she said. “I guess that’s just something to consider when we’re looking at all this.”
Pure Extracts Corp. founder and COO Doug Benville, whose letter started the process, was glad to see council take the first steps to reducing the fees.
“It’s great. It’s really great. I think the fee was a little unfair, especially seeing what’s happening with cannabis companies in the market. It’s pretty tough to turn a buck in the cannabis industry,” Benville told Pique.
Benville’s company has paid its fee once, having been licensed in October, though it started building its facility in 2018.
With four production facilities and two retail stores in town, Benville credited the VOP for creating a climate that is welcoming to the sector.
“The municipality here is pretty good about working with cannabis companies. They understand it’s a new industry and there’s room to grow on both sides,” the long-time Whistler local said.
Benville reported that full production is underway and Pure Extracts will have private-label Pure Pulls products on shelves next month.
Coast Mountain Cannabis co-founder Andrew Ellott authored the second letter.