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Coming Up: June 18th Cannabis Debate

On Monday, Council will be passing cannabis bylaws. Outside of delegations, this is the only topic currently on our agenda.

I gave a complete update after the last Council meeting and the issues have not changed. Rather than writing a new post, I am pasting that update below.

There are two points worth noting:

Upon reviewing the Council meeting recording, it was discovered that we missed voting on second reading of the Smoke Free Public Places bylaw. So this will be up for discussion and voting again.

The bylaw as it currently sits allows for retail locations as discretionary uses in industrial areas. The approving authority for them is City staff. These districts were originally in the bylaw because stores were to be controlled by an overlay map which included industrial areas. However, Council opted to discard the overlay map and instead control locations like other land uses: by zoning districts.

I proposed this approach through a motion that would have removed Cannabis Retail Stores from all industrial districts while adding its use into all commercial districts. This motion was defeated. Subsequent successful motions added Cannabis Retail Stores into commercial zones, but none were made to remove it from industrial zones.

I am concerned about this omission. One of the biggest concerns I hear about cannabis legalization is use in dangerous work environments. I don't know if we should be allowing stores to open beside industrial operations. Furthermore, I believe we should treat Cannabis Stores the same way we treat Liquor Stores. We don't allow Liquor Stores in industrial districts, so I don't know if we should allow Cannabis Stores.

I am considering a motion that would disallow Cannabis Retail Stores in industrial districts. If I don't make this motion, I will almost certainly make or support one to make the Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee as the approving authority on them. While I think this decision should be delegated to staff in most districts, some industrial areas are sensitive enough to demand Council over site.

I'd love to know your thoughts. Please let me know what you think of the proposed cannabis framework.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan


May 22 Update


On Tuesday, Council had a long and lively debate about cannabis. If you care to watch it, the video is posted here. While I was disappointed in a few vote outcomes, I appreciated the thought and discussion that went into each of them them.

This post will only discuss the changes Council made to existing recommendations. To see a discussion of all potential regulations Council is considering, read my last post by clicking here.

The most notable changes Council discussed:

  • The Retail Overlay map was deleted.
  • Cannabis Retail Stores added as Discretionary Use in Commercial Districts. Approval for each location requires public advertisement, and the assent of Council's Infrastructure & Protective Services Committee.
  • A maximum of 10 Cannabis Retail Stores allowed in the first year of legalization
  • Reduction of the business license fee for Cannabis Retail Locations from $5000 to $2500.
  • Separation distances between some community facilities and where consumption is allowed increased from 10m to 30m.

Council did not finalize most of the bylaws before it. Instead, Council ordered changes and then postponed additional debate until June 18th. This delay allows for the public to give further input before decisions are solidified.

There are amendments to four bylaws before Council. Below is a discussion of the changes being contemplated to each one. I also take some space to explain my view on retail locations.

As always, any mistakes or opinions below belong to me and to me alone. 


My General Approach to Cannabis Retail

Most of Council's debate surrounded retail businesses. Before getting into specific legislation, I'm going to share my general approach to retail. If you would like to read more about my general overall approach to cannabis, I wrote about the assumptions I bring to this topic here.

Like most others, I am deeply concerned about the impacts of illicit substances in our community. I also have some concerns about the effects legalization of cannabis. However, I do see opportunities surrounding legalization.

I have three primary goals as the City develops its approach to cannabis:

  1. To Limit Youth Use. It is not good for developing brains to be exposed to substances such as cannabis. The consumption of cannabis can also have negative health outcomes to those with certain mental disorders. Teenagers are often not properly equipped to decide if these risks are worthwhile. I would love to see the rate of youth cannabis use decrease.
  2. To Stifle the Black Market. The black market will sell to people of any age. It is responsible for pushing the drugs which have led to our opioid crises. It creates violence and other problems in our community. It also is not setup to allow people to have a good understanding of the substances they are consuming. If legitimate retailers can out-compete black market dealers for cannabis sales, this will have positive outcomes in our community.
  3. To See Successful Legitimate Businesses. Cannabis is already being widely consumed in our community. All taxpayers are financing responses to any negative outcomes. Since legitimate retailers pay taxes and employ people, they can help the community recoup any costs associated with cannabis and other drug use.

These goals have led me to a fairly permissive view of legitimate business. 

Reducing barriers to retail locations being established will certainly contribute to the first two goals. It will increase competition against the black market. It will also allow the City to recoup costs surrounding use in our community. So the big question in my mind: what will retail locations do for youth usage?

Cannabis is already very accessible to almost every teenager. Many consume, and the majority see it consumed by peers on a near daily basis. It is clear to me that our prohibition-based approach is not working.

When I first began thinking about retail locations, I was concerned that they would create a normalization effect which could impact youth usage. However, I've been reflecting on my experience of youth culture through my work with Young Life. I've also been asking every teen I talk to (which is a lot) about cannabis. Two things struck me:

First, almost every teenager regularly sees their peers consume cannabis and that doesn't strike them as odd. And while many would point to over consumption being a problem for peers, I have not had many express strong disagreement with occasional consumption by young people.

Second, when I interact with teenagers I hear many more comments and see many more social media posts about cannabis than I do about alcohol. I firmly believe this is because of cannabis' illicit nature- it makes it a more interesting topic of conversation for many young people.

I don't think that having legitimate retail locations pop up will do much to increase normalization for teens since it is already very normalized. I also believe that the stringent provincial rules on advertisement and signage will make cannabis retailers look rather boring. Perhaps having boring legitimate retailers around will make cannabis less interesting for some teenagers.

At the same time, a legitimate market will limit the black market. I've had many teenagers tell me it is easier to find a drug dealer for cannabis than a bootlegger for alcohol. If Cannabis Retail Stores can make cannabis less attractive to some teens while making access more difficult for all, that would be a real win for our community.

I don't have good reason to think that retailers will increase youth usage. This is born out by US research, where legalization appears to be linked to slight dips in youth consumption.

Since they can contribute to all three of my goals, I don't see good reason to be highly restrictive of Cannabis Retail Stores. 

Furthermore, a very close analogue to Cannabis Retail Stores is Liquor Stores. I think there could be a case to be made about becoming more restrictive of Liquor Stores. However, currently the City has is fairly permissive of where they are allowed. I see no good reason to have an inconsistent approach to Cannabis Retail Locations.


Land Use Bylaw Amendments- Not Passed Yet

Following are the major proposed cannabis-related amendments to the Land Use Bylaw. These have not had third reading and so are not law yet. Council will debate them again on June 18.

Italics indicates major changes that Council made to the recommendations before it.

  • Allow Cannabis Retail Stores as Discretionary Use in the Central Commercial, General Commercial, Arterial Commercial, Commercial Transition, and Local Commercial districts. These districts all currently allow Liquor Stores. Every Cannabis Retail Store location would require public advertisement and permission from Council's Infrastructure & Protective Services Committee before being approved.
  • Set the following buffers between Cannabis Retail Stores and other Land Uses:
    • Elementary Schools: 150m (but only the provincial buffer of 100m downtown)
    • High Schools: 300m (but only the provincial buffer of 100m downtown)
    • Provincial Health Care Facilities: 100m
    • Addiction Treatment Facilities: 100m
    • Liquor Stores: 10m
  • A limit of 3 Cannabis Retail Stores in any 360m radius
  • In the Central Commercial District (ie: downtown), have a minimum separation distance of 180m between stores facing the same street
  • Set a 200m buffer between Cannabis Production and Distribution Facilities and the following:
    • Residential Land Use Districts
    • Schools
    • Addiction Treatment Facilities
  • Require Cannabis Production and Distribution Facilities to install air filtration systems to minimize odor impacts on adjacent properties

Worth noting: Council decided not to adopt the proposed overlay map which would further limit locations. You can find more information about it in my previous blog post.

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Changes Council Made

To read my thoughts on all the bylaw amendments, click here to read my previous blog posts. Following are my thoughts on two substantial changes made by Council:

 

Retail Overlay Map

Coming to a firm position on the overlay map was difficult for me. I think it provided a well thought out and clearly articulated approach. However, in the end it was overly cautious in my mind. It is a mistake to be too restrictive of where we allow legitimate retailers.

We had retailers asking for new locations that did not appear on the map. I think some of these locations made sense and were very likely to be approved by Council. However, I can't get behind adopting an overlay with the intention to amend it. I don't see the point of having an overlay in the first place if we aren't going to adhere to it.

Furthermore, a retailer asking for a change to the overlay would have to ask for a change to the Land Use Bylaw in addition to undertaking all other application processes. This adds more unpredictability, a couple of months, and a $3500 fee to an already expensive and long process.

 

Discretionary Uses

I am supportive of the districts where Cannabis Retail Stores are proposed as Discretionary Use. All of these districts allow Liquor Stores and have appropriate locations within them. At the same time, having these as Discretionary rather than Permitted use means that the City can also refuse to allow particular locations because of conflict with surrounding land uses.

I do hope Council will re-consider who approves locations. Right now, Council's Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee will vote on every location. In my mind, this is very appropriate for Commercial Transition and Local Commercial districts. These are surrounded by sensitive uses (such as residential lots) and so should have close Council oversight.

However, having a Council Committee look at a location requires a staff report to be written. The report process takes a minimum of three weeks and hours of staff time. I do not think this added time and expense is necessary for all locations (for example, in the heart of a large scale commercial complex). In our main commercial districts, staff should be the approval authority on locations. Having approvals dealt with at the staff level is much more efficient. Furthermore, staff always have the ability to refer questionable locations to the Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee: I trust them to do so when appropriate.


Business License Bylaw- Not Passed Yet

Following are the major proposed cannabis-related amendments to the Business License Bylaw. These have not had third reading and so are not law yet. Council will debate them again on June 18.

Italics indicates major changes that Council made to the recommendations before it.

  • Retailers must provide the City with quarterly reports on their volume of cannabis sales
  • Cannabis Production and Distribution Facilities must pay the City a licensing fee of $500
  • Cannabis Retail Stores must pay the City a licensing fee of $2500
  • Limit Cannabis Retail Store hours to 10:00am - 10:00pm
  • A maximum of 10 Cannabis Retail Store locations will be allowed in the first year of legalization
  • No corporate entity will be able to attain more than 2 licenses

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Changes Council Made

To read my thoughts on all the bylaw amendments, click here to read my previous blog post. Following are my thoughts on two substantial changes made by Council:

Sales Volume Reporting

On Tuesday morning, the Grande Prairie Tourism Association presented to the Community Living Committee.  This re-affirmed my support of reporting requirements.

GP Tourism delegates reported that the provincial government takes a 4% levy on all hotel rooms. This is money is meant to be used to promote Alberta tourism. However, the bulk of provincial marketing funds promote Calgary, Edmonton, or the Rockies. GP Tourism has been asking the province to reinvest the money it takes from our region into promoting the Peace Country. One of its hurdles: it has no way to know exactly how much is taken from our region. This is a great example of why having local industry data can aid in ensuring that we get our fair share of investment from senior levels of government.

I support the City requiring sales data from Retailers. At the same time, I support the change from monthly to quarterly data. This saves work for businesses and won't have an impact on our advocacy work.

 

Licensing Fee

As I stated in my last post, I do not support charging Cannabis Retail Stores a large licensing fee. We do not charge most businesses, including Liquor Stores, a licensing fee. I have seen no evidence that Cannabis Retail Locations will incur more ongoing costs than other businesses. I see no reason to treat these stores differently. This seems more like an arbitrary fee imposed simply because they are new rather than for a concrete social outcome.

I hope Council will consider abolishing this fee. That being said, I was glad to see it at least get reduced from $5000 to $2500.

After losing a vote to abolish the fee, I made a motion to earmark the collected money for cannabis and drug related public education. This motion was defeated. We do not currently have a budget set aside for undertaking this work. Furthermore, I'd feel a lot better about imposing a cannabis-only fee if it was concretely linked to a cannabis-only expense.

 

10 License Cap

I strongly urge Council to re-consider this cap. There are four problems with this.

First, there is no way to limit black market dealers. The only way to push them out of our community is to have them be out-competed by legitimate retailers. Limiting Cannabis Retail Stores to an artificial number does not help with this. An artificial limit can be especially favorable to the black market if it means that large areas of our City are far away from the allowed retail locations.

Second, if there is a market for more than 10 retail locations, more will likely still open. They will just setup outside of City limits. If this happens, the City loses all influence over them. It also means that the City loses out on tax revenue which could go to mitigating any social costs of legalization.

Third, this could create a grey market where retail licenses get sold at a premium. We have seen this in other municipalities where the amount of business licenses are capped (taxi cabs are a classic example). This artificially drives up prices and the municipality receives no benefit.

Finally, I do not think there is a good way to distribute legitimate licenses. No matter how distribution is undertaken, some who don't receive licenses will feel that they were handed out unfairly. There are two options: give licenses out through a random lottery, or somehow pick retailers the City feels have the best business plans. A random distribution is concerning in that it rewards lucky rather than smart and hard working entrepreneurs who will open quality businesses. But the City choosing who gets licenses is even more disturbing. I'm skeptical of any government's ability to select better than the free market who most deserves to operate in a community. I also feel that doing so is overstepping government's role.

 

Limit of 2 Licenses per Corporate Entity

In general, I do not support government limiting the number of locations for a single company to operate. However, for now Council is choosing to artificially limit the number of total locations in our City. Given that decision, it makes sense to limit the percentage of the City licenses which a single retailer can hold. I support this limit for now. However, if Council abolishes the 10 location cap, then any corporate entity should be able to apply for as many licenses as it wishes.


Minimum Property Standards Bylaw- Not Yet Passed

No substantive changes were made to the Minimum Property Standards Bylaw amendments. As it stands now, the proposed bylaw still requires a permit for home cultivation. However, Council asked administration to bring back more information on what the penalties for not receiving a permit would be.

I am still opposed to requiring a permit for home cultivation. The Federal government has taken on responsibility for growing cannabis. It has created legislation to ensure safety, and I am unconvinced that requiring a municipal permit will do more. I do not see the benefit of the municipality collecting and being responsible to safely store this data. I am also incredibly wary of municipal government contributing towards a Federal responsability without being asked and provided with funding to do so.


Smoke Free Public Places Bylaw- PASSED

The Smoke Free Public Places bylaw amendments passed- Council will not be debating this again. The only major change was to expand a 10m buffer around some activities to a 30m buffer. I voted in favour of this change.

This bylaw now prohibits inhaled cannibis consumption:

  • in any area or place that smoking is prohibited by provincial law, municipal law, or a public sign
  • on 101 Ave or 100 Ave between 102 St & 98 St (ie: on our main streets downtown)
  • within a 30m of the following
    • recreation facilities
    • public parks
    • parades
    • outdoor special events unless in a defined area specifically set aside for cannabis use by the event organizer
    • where children are playing or congregating
    • the entrance to a movie theatre
  • in a manner and/or proximity that is adversely affecting another person

 


Feedback Wanted

I'd absolutely love your feedback. Please let me know what you think about the proposed regulations. I'm especially interested in your views about the 10 location cap.

You can post a comment here, send me an email (dbressey@cityofgp.com), give me a call (780-402-4166), post on the GP Round Table Facebook page, or find me on Facebook (I'd prefer you interact with my Council page rather than my personal wall- click here for my page).

Also, if this is your first time on my website: thanks for checking it out! I love to hear feedback before Council debates and votes on issues. To help with this, I post agenda summaries before every City Council meeting. To keep on following what we are doing, checkout www.bressey.ca/meetings.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan