Council tweaks proposed cannabis bylaws

Municipalities scrambling as deadline for federal cannabis legalizaiton fast approaches

On the eve of the last city council meeting before the upcoming municipal elections, city council took another crack at drilling down specific bylaw procedures for the upcoming federal legalization of cannabis.

After a first introduction two weeks ago, council made a few minor adjustments that capped the number of proposed retail locations at 10 — four in C1 zoning (downtown core) and six in C2 zoning.

READ: Cranbrook introduces draft cannabis bylaws

Councillor Ron Popoff led the discussion on capping the number of stores, proposing an initial limit of five, simply because municipalities still have no idea how legalization is going to change the business landscape.

“I anticipate there’s going to be a run to try and get into Cranbrook and other than some setbacks in this bylaw, we have nothing else that’s going to give the next council those fundamental tools, thus the five or seven number,” said Popoff.

“I’m really hesitant to leave it wide open because it will cause the new council to be scrambling without any subjective criteria and it might just be, ‘Well, let everyone in.’

“I don’t that’s responsible for this council.”

However, that got pushback from the mayor and other councillors who wanted to let the free market dictate the number of retail stores.

“I like the idea of setting a number down, whether it’s five or seven or whatever,” said Mayor Lee Pratt. “I do like that factor because we don’t want to be inundated with them; we don’t want to become the cannabis capital of B.C., but on the other hand, we want to make sure we’re open to free enterprise too.”

Councillor Norma Blissett agreed.

“I do think that if we limit the number of retailers, then those retailers who are going to get a licence right away, almost have a guarantee of their business being successful,” said Blissett. “What if they aren’t good business people, what if they don’t treat their customers well? Should the free enterprise system deal with that and sort it out over time?”

As with the first introduction of the cannabis bylaws, no retailers remain prohibited from setting up a location within 100 metres of a group day care, playground, school or park.

Other concerns raised included ‘big box’ retailers getting priority over smaller mom-and-pop outfits and confusion with application procedures through the provincial government’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, which regulates the distribution of recreational cannabis.

Specifically, there is vagueness in where municipal input is considered in the retail cannabis application process, and if a potential retailer will lose out on a non-refundable $10,000 fee if a municipality doesn’t rezone a location to allow for sales.

“This is the dilemma we’re faced with at the 11th hour because there’s nothing to give us concrete decision-making, and that’s the tough part,” said Coun. Wes Graham. “It’s not that I’m trying to be a thorn in anybody’s side but how do we get this going when we don’t have quality information from the government?”

Coun. Danielle Eaton also included a setback amendment, which would allow a liquor or vape business to be within close proximity of each other.

“Having the distance in between a liquor store and a cannabis store — I can’t find any legitimate research that shows that there’s any positive or negative community impact,” Eaton said.

Rob Veg, a city planner, says he has been grappling with the regulatory framework provided by the province, and admits that the guiding regulations from the province leaves a lot to interpretation.

The entirety of the proposed cannabis bylaw contains a few parts; the newly created cannabis bylaw as well as amendments to existing bylaws such as the Clean Air Bylaw, the Development Procedures and Delegation bylaw and the Municipal Ticketing Information System Bylaw.

Further debate at the table centred on the Development Procedures and Delegation bylaw, which proposes a $500 application fee as part of the cannabis retail license process, a similar regulatory procedure to purchasing a liquor license that also carries an application fee.

That touched off a tangent on the merit of jacking up business license fees for potential cannabis businesses, similar to what Kelowna has done by setting a $10,500 business license fee for prospective cannabis retailers.

Enforcement was also raised, not just in the context of ticketing people for smoking cannabis on municipal right of ways, but also that bylaw officers are ensuring cannabis retailers are obeying the rules.

The potential for increased enforcement costs struck a nerve for Graham.

“I guess it’s one of the things that irks me, is the federal government puts this in and they talk about, there’s potential for a windfall of taxes and where are we going to put our money into? Enforcement, because we have to beef up enforcement,” Graham said.

“It’s not a windfall for us to spend on what we really need, it’s hiring people to enforce the laws for a not-well-thought-out process.”

As the provincial cannabis laws are currently constructed, a cannabis retailer has to apply to the provincial government, before that application is sent to a municipality for consideration.

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