Town hashing out rules on cannabis stores

Pressure on, as Oct. 17 legalization deadline looms

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Retail sale of cannabis becomes legal in Canada on Oct. 17, and municipalities are scrambling to lay down some rules. Because investors are definitely wanting to open up shop on that date. A couple of those were at the Aug. 14 town council meeting when the matter was discussed.

Samantha Dyck of the town’s planning department provided council with an overview of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) rules for cannabis sales and consumption. They cover such areas as possession, public consumption, purchasing, minors, intoxication and retail locations.

For the planning department, the question is mainly about where such stores should be allowed and related matters. As such, Dyck asked councillors a few questions to get an idea of what they had in mind. For example: what sort of separation should there be between cannabis stores and schools, parks, health care facilities and so on? Apparently the AGLC is suggesting 100 metres. Municipalities can vary that, but the province has final word.

“We could reduce it,” said planning and development director Laurie Skrynyk. “And the AGLC could increase it.”

To help council visualize the ‘exclusion zones’ around schools, maps had been produced, showing 70, 100 and 110-metre zones around those five or six locations in town, plus around the hospital. If the bylaw were to adopt any of them, it would rule out most of downtown.

“I struggle with that,” said mayor Tyler Warman. “We’d basically sterilize 90 per cent of commercial property. If the goal is to put retail in industrial (areas), that’s a great way to do it.”

Another question: Does council wish to limit the number of stores in town? No way, said Warman. We don’t do that with any other business. Let the market decide. Other councillors felt the same.

The question was asked how many licenses the AGLC will issue for Slave Lake. Nobody knew the answer. Councillor Darin Busk said he’d like the stores – however many it turns out to be – to be spread out, rather than concentrated in one part of town.

“You may want to consider distance between stores (as a regulation),” said Skrynyk.

Councillor Julie Brandle wasn’t in favour of imposing such a restriction.

“I don’t think Slave Lake will have a ‘pot district,’” she said. “The market can figure that out.”

The toughest nut to crack for council was the AGLC-imposed exclusion zone around schools. With three of them in the vicinity of downtown Slave Lake, as noted, it would cause conflict. Warman (and others) asked for more maps, showing 30 – 50-metre exclusion zones around the schools. An exception for downtown was also suggested.

“How would we defend that?” asked Skrynyk. She added that if the town goes with no setback, “you’re going to find the AGLC imposing one.”

As noted, the AGLC is setting most of the rules, including who gets licenses. Council briefly discussed the local vs. outside business dilemma, but quickly set it aside, not being in the business of picking winners and losers.

The question was raised about how long the process of enacting the necessary by law changes will take.

As pointed out by councillor Joy McGregor, there is some urgency, since businesspeople are hoping to open up on the day retail sales become legal, which is expected to be Oct. 17. She urged the planning department to move things along as quickly as possible.

“You’re looking at a six-week process for a land-use amendment,” said Skrynyk.

What happens next is staff takes council’s directions, drafts an amended bylaw and brings it to council for first reading. Then it has to be duly advertised and a public hearing held. That would be sometime in September at the earliest. If there is no great outpouring of opposition, council could give the bylaw change second and final readings on that same date. If there is, the process could presumably drag out.

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