Council hears plans for next steps in municipal cannabis legislation

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City planners in Prince Albert say it is “crunch time” for local legislation as the legalization of cannabis in Canada grinds closer.

The city's next steps were rolled out in front of city’s council's executive committee Monday night. Craig Guidinger, director of planning and development, said legalization will use a top-down approach largely dictated by the federal and provincial governments, but there are still a few items municipalities will have the ability to tweak. Guidinger said city planners are still conducting research and reviewing best practices using information from the provincial cannabis survey to prepare draft regulations, but nothing has yet been set in stone.

"We were given a very short timeline from the province,” Guidinger said. “We are obviously at crunch time, but I believe we will have some draft language in front of council in June or July, with final options shortly thereafter.”

The city will have the ability to zone where cannabis storefronts, wholesale and production facilities will go. A distance of 200 metres was suggested as an appropriate buffer zone from schools, parks, playgrounds, and residential areas, which would limit sales and production of marijuana to the downtown, highway and peripheral areas of the city. Guidinger said he has seen buffers range from 100 to 400 metres in other municipalities.

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Hours of operation and annual business licence costs are also in the hands of the city. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) has established that storefronts will be allowed to operate between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 a.m. but have left open the opportunity for local municipalities to restrict those hours further. Retail stores will be required to operate for a minimum of six hours a day, five days a week.

Public consumption is typically up to cities to control, but the province has said that marijuana consumption will only legally be allowed on private property. It will be illegal to consume it in all public areas, and these rules will be slid into the city’s existing smoking bylaw.

Prince Albert had 101 applicants vying for two available retail store permits, according to data the province released April 20. The Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, which owns land within the city, also has one permit available. Those who are selected to open a retail store will have to apply for approval and come before city council for consideration, even if more permits are made available down the road.

Although some councillors quizzed Guidinger on what will happen with cannabis consumption at hotels, Mayor Greg Dionne said this was a moot point as nearly every hotel has already banned smoking.

“People keep throwing out these, I call them, dummy flags,” he told media after the meeting. “The reason they have no smoking is the smoke stains the furniture, it leaves a smell, and the other guests don’t like it. That isn’t going to change.”

The mayor also said it is high time the feds set a firm date for cannabis legalization. 

“Everyone says it is still July 1. Well, we all know that isn’t going to happen," Dionne said. "I am pleased it is moving forward, but all I am getting frustrated with is, give us a solid date.”

He said some residents are urging the city to slow down and wait, but the mayor said the city will be ready for the proposed July 1 date no matter what.

“We are going to be ready and keep to the date. If it is another year, we can just fine-tune what we have,” he said. 

The third reading of federal Bill-C 45, The Cannabis Act, is expected June 7, though it is still with the Senate under review.

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