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Pemberton cannabis company requests fee review

Coast Mountain Cannabis co-founder pens letter to Pemberton council regarding business licence fees
SEEKING RECONSIDERATION Coast Mountain Cannabis’ co-founder Andrew Ellott sent a letter to Village of Pemberton council asking for a reduction in business licence fees for those in the cannabis industry. Mayor Mike Richman said the municipality plans to review the fee structure.

The co-founder of a Pemberton cannabis company is requesting that the Village of Pemberton (VOP) reconsider its fees for cannabis business licences.

In a letter to council written in December and addressed at its Jan. 12 regular meeting, Andrew Ellott of Coast Mountain Cannabis asked that the VOP alter its fee structure to bring cannabis licences in line with regular licences. A cannabis licence comes with a $5,000 price tag while a regular business licence runs $150. 

“I was just trying to raise the inequity of it,” he said of why he submitted the letter. “It’s hard to … justify a licence fee that’s [more than 30 times] higher than any other business in town.”

He explained that the company, which boasts more than a dozen employees, is well-funded and his concern is less about the dollar amount than the principle of the matter.

Ellott, who also raised the issue in 2019, understands the “knee-jerk” to have high fees at the outset of cannabis legalization, but feels enough time has elapsed without issue that the fee should be looked at again.

“We haven’t had a visit from anyone at the Village. I don’t think we’ve caused them any headaches. I don’t think we require any additional manpower to manage,” he said. “I don’t see where the extra workload’s coming from.

“If anything, we’re an incredible stimulus to the economy, creating non-tourism, non-construction jobs for locals who aren’t having to drive to Whistler.”

Ellott noted he doesn’t understand why the cannabis industry’s business licence fee is different, particularly from establishments in the alcohol industry.

When addressing Ellott’s letter during the meeting, Mayor Mike Richman said he was open to reviewing the structure, which he reiterated in a Jan. 19 interview.

“It’s probably time we had a review of that policy of the cost for business licences and make sure that we’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Richman said council appreciates feedback and works to rectify policies that aren’t working as planned. 

“Whenever we write a policy or bylaws, depending on what we’re talking about, staff is good at alerting us that, ‘Hey, we didn’t get it 100-per-cent right,’ or if there’s some good reason to give it a review, especially if it’s around some new policymaking or some new items that we haven’t dealt with before,” he said. “Whenever we write a policy, we always plan on reviewing it, whether it’s short-term rentals, business licence fees, whatever, we like to circle back and make sure we got it right.”

Richman explained that, in the lead-up to cannabis legalization, the Village’s thinking was that it would be better to start conservative and potentially relax restrictions rather than the other way around. He cited council’s decision last year to remove the requirement on cannabis retail zoning that two employees be onsite at all times as an example of its willingness to review its approaches.

“We were assuming this new industry might require some more work, whatever that looks like,” he said. “If it’s proven that it’s too much or too conservative or too aggressive or whatever the case might be, then we have the opportunity to pull it back and look at it again rather than add it on after if we feel the need.”

Richman anticipates that the review will likely reach council “quite quickly” in the coming months. 

Looking ahead

Coast Mountain has been in business for four years but is still in start-up mode. After an arduous three-and-a-half-year process, the company received Health Canada licensing and is in the final steps of securing its sales licences from the provinces.

“Our organic Pemberton cannabis will end up in dispensaries by the spring, hopefully,” Ellott said. “We’re getting close to the finish line of getting through all the [Health Canada regulations].”

Ellott noted that Pemberton is emerging as a hub of premium organic cannabis, as two of Canada’s four licenced organic producers are based in town. He adds, however, that operating organically is more expensive and more difficult to do on a large scale.