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Committee parses cannabis bylaw changes

St. Albert city councillors are leaning toward heavier rather than lighter regulations on the sale and consumption of cannabis.
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St. Albert city councillors are leaning toward heavier rather than lighter regulations on the sale and consumption of cannabis.

During Monday's governance, priorities and finance committee meeting, several city staff members presented options on how to work the legalization of cannabis into the city's smoking bylaw, business license bylaw, tobacco retail licensing bylaw and land use bylaw.

Committee members weighed in on the options, generally favouring more restrictive bylaw changes.

Mayor Cathy Heron reminded the committee that the discussion was taking place without council members having seen the results of public input surveys the city ran earlier this month. She said council will have a workshop on cannabis once the results of the survey have been tabulated.

"We're talking about this today without public feedback yet," she said. "This is just more of a technical (discussion) and I'm really curious to see where my council colleagues are (at)."

Business licensing

Monty Killoh, business licence inspector with the Department of Economic Development, laid out three options for the committee to look at regarding business and tobacco retail licensing.

He said the city could treat cannabis retailers similar to liquor stores, meaning there would be no operational restrictions and a minimal impact on the cost of enforcement.

Alternately, the city could decide to regulate cannabis retailers like smoke shops by adding cannabis to the list of restricted products within the business licensing bylaw.

The third option is for the city to introduce moderate to heavy restrictions by creating a new bylaw for cannabis or regulating its sale through the tobacco retail licence bylaw. That would mean the city would take an active role in regulation and enforcement costs could be higher.

That option would mean cannabis retailers would require secure storage, have conditions on how they display their products and have restrictions on what hours they could operate.

"The idea would be that if we have a specific cannabis retail licensing bylaw, the industry could be kind of reined in and regulated by this additional bylaw alone as we see it necessary," said Killoh.

Heron and Coun. Jacquie Hansen both said they were supportive of the third option. Both were also supportive of a potential cap on the number of cannabis retail licences the city would issue.

Smoking bylaw

Possible changes to the city's smoking bylaw could mean tighter restrictions on tobacco use as well, especially if council decides to prohibit smoking or vaping in parks and on trails.

Currently, people are allowed to smoke tobacco in parks, on trails and on public sidewalks.

Marta Caufield, a solicitor with the legal and legislative services department, said the current smoking bylaw treats cannabis the same as tobacco.

She suggested a range of options to amend the smoking bylaw, from easing some of the restrictions to introducing a city-wide ban, save for medical use, on smoking cannabis.

"The more restrictive the city is, the higher will be the cost (of enforcement) and more resources will be required to enforce the city's smoking bylaw," she said.

Hansen said she would be in favour of banning cannabis use from parks.

"Frankly, I would like to be more restrictive in public places with cannabis, and I don't want to see cannabis in our parks system, and I don't want to see people smoking pot at Lions Park," she said.

She suggested the city would need to find some ways to differentiate between cannabis and tobacco in the bylaw.

"I think the enforcement piece will just become a gong show if you just create a bylaw that is the same for smoking as it is for cannabis," she said.

Heron, Coun. Natalie Joly and Coun. Sheena Hughes said they were leaning toward more restrictive options as well, although none wanted an outright ban on public smoking.

Land use bylaw

The three options laid out for the city's land use bylaw are to adopt provincial regulations and treat cannabis retailers like general retailers; create a specific land use for cannabis retail stores and treat them similar to liquor stores; or creating St. Albert-specific regulations and set additional separation distances.

The first two options would mean the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) would be the governing body of those stores.

Hughes and Coun. Natalie Joly both said they would be interested in seeing something between the second and third options.

Council will receive a presentation on April 23 about the results of the public survey.

On May 28, council is set to do the first reading of amendments to the land use bylaw and will set a public hearing for those changes.

The land use bylaw will come back to council on June 25, along with the smoking bylaw, business licence bylaw and tobacco retail licensing bylaw.

Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Ray Watkins were absent from Monday's meeting.


April Hudson

About the Author: April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette
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