The city of Nelson is preparing to make changes to regulations that staff hopes will offer clarity to dispensaries looking to operate in the B.C. town.

Nelson director of corporate services Frances Long said the bylaw changes are in response to the five dispensaries that have opened over the last year, some of which have approached the city to investigate getting a business license.

Council has made changes to their business license bylaw to state that no operations can run in the town that are in conflict with federal, provincial or municipal bylaws and regulations.

“Clarity is what council is wanting to provide,” Frances said. “Make it clear to the business license inspector when he’s issuing the business licenses and make it clear to the public as well.”

Frances said it’s now clear to business owners that the city will not issue them a business license for their dispensary and will face enforcement from the city on a case-by-case basis.

“Any that are operating in a fashion that’s unsafe, that are blatantly selling to people that are underage, or something like that, we will most definitely be enforcing,” Frances said. “We have the discretion whether we’re going to enforce in a strong manner or a light manner. So this certainly gives us the authority to do that and discretion will be applied.”

The city is able to issue penalties of $500 for operating contrary to bylaws and Frances said if dispensaries are found to be “doing something very egregious” they could find themselves facing a $10,000 fine in court.

Mayor Deb Kozak said the changes aren’t intended to be an attack on medical cannabis dispensaries.

“The philosophy is, as with any of our bylaws, that we educate first. Bylaws are not meant to be punitive … It helps us be good neighbours to each other and good businesses,” Kozak said. “But if there is non compliance, or complaints from the community, it gives us licence to act.”

Police in the city can also enforce dispensaries in the city, at their discretion. Frances said a dispensary in the area was recently shut down by authorities.

In September, Nelson deputy police chief Paul Burkart said his force would monitor complaints about dispensaries in the city as they came in, but they weren’t the highest priority for police.

“Our wish is for the federal government to set some regulations that will keep us happy and safe. That’s what we want,” said Burkart.