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Coming Up: May 22- Cannabis and Other Discussions

Council meets on Tuesday night. The big issue on our agenda: cannabis bylaws.

To view an agenda, read background material, or watch the meeting click here.

Following is a rundown of what we will be discussing and my take on it. Any mistakes or opinions belong to me and me alone. And as always, I am open to having my mind changed: I would love to hear your thoughts.

We will be discussing the following motions, all of which I currently intend to vote "yes" to:

  • Allowing Wembley to become an Aquatera shareholder. Under the proposed terms, Wembley would be able to gain dividend-producing equity in Aquatera. It would not become one of the municipalities that need to give Unanimous Consent for major decisions. The proposed agreement also calls for Wembley to share revenue with the City in recognition of the City's contributions to Aquatera aiding in development. From any new developments in Wembley, the City would receive 3% of residential property taxes and 8% of non-residential taxes. You can get more background information on Wembley joining Aquatera by reading this blog post.
  • Alberta 55-Plus Summer Games. It is recommended that Council express its support of hosting the 2019 55-Plus Summer Games if a local organizing committee forms. If these games do come to Grande Prairie, any financial or other contributions by the City will be negotiated at a later date. By expressing our support, Council is not making any specific commitments.
  • Visitor Information Center Contract Renewal: It is recommended that Council authorize the renewal of a contract with the Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association to run the Visitor Information Centre inside Centre 2000.
  • Weed Inspector Appointments: This is an appropriately named agenda item for the night we are discussing cannabis... Council will be making appointments necessary to fulfill the City's commitments under the provincial Weed Control Act.

I suspect that the above items will have quick and non-contentious discussion. The bulk of our meeting will be the debate of cannabis bylaws.

This summer, recreational sale and consumption of cannabis will be legalized. Council needs to figure out how this will be regulated in Grande Prairie. Earlier in the spring, administration brought forward a series of recommendations. These have since been modified by Council's Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee. You can click here to read the current suggestions, proposed bylaw amendments, background information, and the results of the City's Online Feedback Survey. I'd strongly encourage you to checkout this information for yourself.

Below is my summary of the recommendations being made, and my current views on the proposed bylaws.


My Assumptions

I've written down a series of conclusions I have made. They are based on research and conversations with community members and experienced professionals. You can read them in detail by clicking here. These are what will inform my vote. They are:

  • Municipal governments should not prohibit something that senior levels of government permit
  • Municipal governments still maintain a regulatory duty
  • Legalization does not provide a substantial threat to our community
  • Cannabis stores are unlikely to create localized crime or nuisances
  • Legalization should still be approached with great thought and some caution
  • Cannabis use is not consequence free: education is important
  • Youth should not consume cannabis and normalization is a concern
  • Legal home cultivation does not carry substantial risk
  • Prohibition doesn't work and black markets are dangerous- legitimate retail has an important role
  • We cannot ban public consumption all together
  • There should be some limits on public consumption
  • Too strict of limits on public consumption are counter-productive
  • "But we don't do that for alcohol or tobacco" is a poor reason to reject a specific regulation
  • I'd rather have retailers and producers setup inside City limits than just outside
  • In the long term, legalization is unlikely to cost the City large amounts of money
  • The province should share revenue with municipalities

Locations for Cannabis Businesses

Highlights of Provincial and Federal Regulation

  • Requirements for securing facilities including alarms, video surveillance, and very strong storage areas in retail locations
  • Prohibition of minors, even when accompanied by adults
  • Store interiors cannot be visible from the street
  • Signage cannot promote sale to minors, intoxication, health effects, sports, or cultural events
  • Retailers can only purchase cannabis from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC)
  • 100m buffer between cannabis retailers and schools and provincial health care facilities
  • Cannabis retailers cannot sell alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals
  • Cannabis consumption is banned on the premises of a retailer

 

Highlights of Recommendations for Additional City Regulation

  • Only allow retail locations in the green areas indicated on the map below (click here for a full size .pdf)
  • 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
Cannabis+Retail+Overlay.png

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Retail Buffer Zones

I think the buffers from schools, health facilities, and treatment facilities make sense. I don't see myself being persuaded to vote against them. I'm also considering making a motion that we add these buffers into requirements for new liquor stores. I don't see the two types of business as significantly different. If these buffers make sense for Cannabis Retailers, I think they might make sense for Liquor stores. 

The limits to the clustering of Cannabis Retailers make sense to me, but my support of these is more hedged. For the sake of decreasing normalization and limiting impact on the public perception of our community, I like not having many stores in close proximity as legalization is implemented. No one has raised concerns to me about these proximity limits. However, I'm open to having my mind changed about whether or not these are needed.

I do not support the 10m buffer between Cannabis Retailers and Liquor Stores. I believe the thought behind this was to prevent a two-store retail location from selling just Cannabis and Liquor. However, these types of retail opportunities are limited in our City. It could also lead to more people having to walk past Cannabis and Liquor stores if another store was between them rather than just beside one. 


Where I [Currently] Stand on the Retail Overlay

I am torn on retail store locations. My votes on this will almost certainly be undecided until Council meets and I have the opportunity to hear from delegations my colleagues. 

There are compelling reasons to be somewhat liberal with where we allow retailers. These include:

  • Cannabis stores are unlikely to create localized crime or nuisances. They haven't done so in other jurisdictions. Other than public perception issues, I haven't heard of problems localized to liquor stores. And the province has introduced very stringent requirements which should minimize localized impact (including a very large fine for stores which allow customers to open or consume on-site). If we don't have compelling reason to think cannabis retailers will create localized issues, we should be very careful about limiting their locations.
  • Drug dealers are most certainly having negative impacts on neighbourhoods. Some consumers may continue to purchase from the black market if legitimate retail is not convenient.
  • Forcing people to travel further for cannabis due to limited locations may not be useful. I'm not convinced that it will limit use. It could increase incidents of impaired driving. It could also lead to more stores in the County, which means the City loses control and revenue.

To read a letter from a local retailer giving some good reasons to loosen the recommended overlay, click here.

There are also compelling reasons to be somewhat restrictive with where we allow retailers. These include:

  • We don't know how legalization will play out in a Canadian or in a Grande Prairie context. There is a chance stores will create localized issues. If no problems appear, it is easy for the City to loosen up restrictions. But if problems do arise, it is very difficult for the City to tighten up restrictions.
  • There are many people in our community who are nervous about legalization. Giving them comfort through reasonable restriction may be worthwhile.
  • Normalization is a concern, especially if it leads to increased youth usage. Restricting certain locations may dampen this effect.
  • Public perception is important. A proliferation of cannabis retailers may lead to some people being discouraged from setting down roots or investing here.

To read a letter from Alberta Health Services giving some good reasons to increase the recommended restrictions, click here.

I may vote to support the overlay. I could be persuaded that a cautious approach is merited. If it is, I think the suggested overlay takes this cautious approach in a reasonable manner.

There are some retailers who will be asking us to adjust the overlay because their locations do not appear in it. If Council adopts the overlay, I will be unlikely to support any amendments to it. It would make no sense to me if we supported the overlay in concept, but then changed it upon request. I would need to be very convinced about the unique merit of an individual location to support it being added into the overlay.

That being said, I am currently leaning towards voting against the overlay. It may be too cautious, and I am not completely convinced that we should be treating Cannabis Retail Stores differently than Liquor Stores. If I end up voting against the overlay, I am likely to suggest that we align cannabis retail zoning with liquor retail rules by making Cannabis Retail Stores Permitted Uses in Central Commercial, General Commercial, and Arterial Commercial districts and Discretionary Uses in Commercial Transition and Local Commercial districts.

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Cannabis Production and Distribution Facilities

I currently support the recommendations being made for these facilities- they are light and they make sense to me.

 


Cannabis Business Licensing

Highlights of Provincial and Federal Regulation

  • All cannabis business locations require licenses and strict oversite by the AGLC
  • Mandatory background checks for owners and workers. No licenses given to applicants linked to organized crime or drug crimes
  • All staff must take a 4-6 hour AGLC course
  • Sales data must be reported to the AGLC monthly
  • Cannabis retailers may only be open from 10am - 2am

 

Highlights of Recommendations for Additional City Regulation

  • Retailers must provide the City with monthly 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 $5000
  • Limit Cannabis Retail Store hours to 10:00am - 10:00pm

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Business Rules

I support monthly reporting of cannabis sales. Retailers will already be required to provide the same monthly numbers to the province: having to provide it to the City as well introduces extremely minimal extra work and expense. These numbers will be useful for the City's advocacy efforts. The province will be taking lots of money away from local retailers in the form of excise tax, AGLC fees, and potential profits from its monopoly on wholesale and online sales. The money taken from our local economy should be re-invested locally. However, it is impossible for our community to hold the province to account if we have no way to estimate the revenue being generated.

I do not support the proposed licensing fees. The justification for these is that the City has incurred costs (mostly in the form of staff time) to create a regulatory framework- it makes sense to some that these be recouped from consumers and businesses. While I am sympathetic to this, I cannot ultimately support it. Part of a municipality's core duty is to adapt to new federal and provincial responsibility: this basic duty should be absorbed by its general revenue. And after our bylaws are solidified, I do not think the legalization of cannabis will introduce major new costs that we need to recoup (I'm actually hopeful it will save costs). I don't see good reason to charge cannabis ventures more than we charge other businesses.

If Council opts for a licensing fee, it should be used for public education. I intend to vote against the proposed license fees. If I lose this vote and Council approves them, I intend to make a followup motion. If successful, this motion would earmark all funds collected from Cannabis business licenses to be set aside for public education efforts addressing cannabis use.

I currently support the proposed hours of sale but my vote is very much up-in-the-air. In my survey of academic literature, I found compelling evidence that extended hours for alcohol sales increases alcohol use and social impacts (most of the studies I looked at are behind a pay wall, but here is one meta study). I could not find studies about cannabis sales, but I would assume the same forces apply . This is a compelling reason to limit the hours of sale. However, some feel that hours should be extended to ensure that legitimate retailers can more fully compete with the black market. This argument has merit and may lead me to support extending the proposed hours.


Personal (ie: At Home) Cultivation

Highlights of Provincial and Federal Regulations

  • A limit of four plants per residence
  • Prohibition on dangerous manufacturing proccesses
  • Reasonable measures taken to prevent theft and youth access

 

Highlights of Recommendations for Additional City Regulation

It is recommended that we require residents to obtain a permit to undertake personal cultivation. This permit would be free or very low cost and would contain no requirements not already found in federal and provincial legislation. Its intent would be to allow the City to collect data on personal cultivation and to help ensure that residents wishing to cultivate are aware of federal and provincial rules.

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Home Cultivation Permitting

I don't see the need for a home permit. I believe that the Federal regulations, if followed, are adequate to ensure reasonably safe home cultivation. I also think that someone who doesn't follow them is unlikely to apply for a City permit. We don't require a permit for home brewing (which creates a mind altering substance) or for large aquariums (which can create humidity and water concerns similar to what I have heard expressed about cannabis), so I do not see why we should require a permit for cannabis cultivation.

One argument that might persuade me to support home cultivation permits: some have argued that they will help enforce federal laws surrounding criminal cultivation. No one has explained to my satisfaction how these permits will help with that enforcement. However, if I am given compelling enforcement reasons for it, I may support this recommendation.


Consumption

Highlights of Federal and Provincial Regulation

Consumption prohibited:

  • in vehicles
  • inside cannabis retail outlets
  • on school or hospital properties
  • within 4m of skate parks, outdoor pools, spray parks, and playgrounds

 

Highlights of Recommendations for Additional City Regulation

Prohibit 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 10m 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
  • within 30m of the entrance to a movie theatre
  • in a manner and/or proximity that is adversely affecting another person

 

Where I [Currently] Stand on Consumption Rules

If I had my way, we would put the same restrictions on cannabis consumption as we have on alcohol. This would mean that, in general, people would not be allowed to consume in public places. Additionally, we would add all the restrictions we have around smoking to those choosing to consume cannabis through inhalation.

Unfortunately, I do not think federal and provincial laws make this a realistic approach. The federal government will not be allowing the sale of edibles for at least a year. Until they are allowed, it is going to be difficult to consume legal recreational cannabis in forms other than inhalation. Inhalation is banned by provincial law in all workplaces, which includes all commercial gathering places. Inhalation is also banned in many multi-family residences. This will make it very difficult for some people to find places to consume legally sold cannabis.

I do not believe that the City can prohibit something the Federal and Provincial governments have made legal. This means that we need to provide reasonable opportunity for consumption. Since consumption in private will be out of reach for many, public places for people to smoke or vaporize cannabis are needed. I know this will cause complaints with people concerned by smells and others concerned by people consuming this sort of mood altering substance in public. However, I don't feel that the City has much choice.

Given that some opportunity for public consumption is required, I believe the proposed bylaws give reasonable and balanced restrictions. I currently intend to vote in favour of them.

In the future, I anticipate that edibles will become legal. At that time, the need to provide public opportunity will be eliminated as private consumption becomes possible without inhalation. When other forms of cannabis are legalized for retail sale, Council should apply the more restrictive rules we have for alcohol to cannabis inhalation.


Feedback Wanted

I'd absolutely love your feedback. Please let me know what you think about the proposed regulations. I am especially interested to hear your thoughts on the Cannabis Retail Overlay map and on the idea of adding buffer zones to Liquor Stores.

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