In a four to two decision, Williams Lake Council agreed that $500 for an annual business license fee for cannabis retail and a $1000 annual fee for cannabis production facilities should be five times higher.
Councillor Craig Smith made the recommendation supported by Councillors Jason Ryll, Laurie Walters, and Mayor Walt Cobb at Tuesday night’s committee of whole council based on what he said were social costs.
“The biggest problem I have right now is the fact that the province is saying that we are not going to get any revenue,” said Smith.
“My worry is if we are not going to get anything from the province there are going to be social costs and the only way we are going to get it is from the business license. And it doesn’t matter really, to be honest talking with any of these guys the figure that we put on it. They’re going to pay it because they’re going to make it back within days.”
Councillor Sue Zacharias who did not support the recommendation reminded Council that they have to stay within the realm of being economically friendly.
“We’ve stated publicly that we are going to be friendly so I think the staff has the conundrum on coming up with something that is practical,” she said.
Zacharias said while liquor establishments also cause many social and policing issues, their business license fees are not that high.
“We don’t ask liquor places to open up their books and ask them how much they make.”
Also not supporting the recommendation for the increased license fees was Councillor Scott Nelson.
“Let’s get them through the door first. We haven’t even had them in the door,” Nelson said.
“The last thing we want to be seeing doing is, on one hand, trying to encourage an industry trying to come here to the community and single them out with a $5,000 business application fee.”
Smith, however, said he believes that starting the fees higher is easier than starting lower.
“If a business like this is not going to add to our policing costs then maybe we can look at it later.”
Councillor Jason Ryll said if the business license fees are set exorbitantly high, the infinite number of these businesses will be pushed outside of city boundaries.
“I understand that it’s important to send the right business message that we’re open for business and welcome to this new industry coming online with us,” he said.
“But I think we’re back to having the same arguments about the social costs of what it’s going to cost us to police the city, the mental health costs that go along with it, and really it’s a for-profit business. $500 and $1000 I really think them as fractional costs to what it’s going to cost us in the long run.”
Mayor Walt Cobb told MYCARIBOONOW following the meeting he believes however that the license fees should be even higher.
“We have it already with the marijuana store we have in town and the issues we’re having to deal with it there so we know it’s going to cost extra policing and it’s going to cost us extra bylaw enforcement officers,” he said.
“If they’re going to cause problems they should have to pay for it.”
Cobb added he has been told that the City has already received as many 10 applications for a business license for cannabis retail however they have been all sent back stating the City is not ready to issue a license until the federal and provincial governments give them all the laws and guidelines that follow it.
“It doesn’t matter what pub it is or what bar it is, or what beer and wine store it is, there are issues that cost us extra money,” he said.
“I don’t think they’re as near as bad for what it is going to be for the marijuana issue because we’re finding out that they’re not willing to uphold or carry out what the laws are. They’re going to do what they want to do and they’re willing to pay the money because it’s a lucrative business.”
The maximum fee for any Williams Lake business licenses according to Director of Development Services, Leah Hartley is currently $1,000 annually.
Councillor Ivan Bonnell was absent from the meeting.