January 20th, 2018

City grapples with looming legal pot

By Collin Gallant on December 23, 2017.


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

The City of Medicine Hat is preparing for the Canada-wide legalization of marijuana in 2018, but in the absence of final rules from other levels of government, local regulations remain a work in progress, officials said this week.

“It is a big cumbersome process, and we’re on track to be ready for July, but we’ll see a lot of activity in the next six months,” commissioner Stan Schwartzenberger told Wednesday’s meeting of the development and infrastructure committee.

A working group of city managers from several divisions are co-ordinating how the city will regulate the new legal business, as well as possibly restrict its use.

Also, community consultations in early 2018 will determine whether the city should set local standards higher than minimum requirements laid down by the province or Ottawa.

That means shops could be allowed only in certain zoning, or pushed far away from schools or residential areas.

“We do have the ability to layer on (more regulations),” said planning general manager Kent Snyder, though noting that the city cannot outright ban the industry.

“(Public feedback) we believe will be very polarized, and middle ground might be hard to find.”

Committee chair Coun. Robert Dumanowski said he disagrees morally with the move to legalize marijuana by Ottawa, but the city needs to put restrictions in place that are in line with community sentiment.

“I resent that we’ve been put in this position with a very difficult timeline,” he said, adding that not knowing federal plans makes it difficult to set local standards needed by the middle of next year.

“The intent is to do consultations and gauge the merits of different options,” said Schwartzenberger. “We’re trying to figure out what’s acceptable in the community.”

Coun. Jim Turner said as he understands it the licensing process at the federal level is very complex, and there are indications the move may be delayed.

“I can’t see anyone ready to retail by July 1,” he said.

The city planning office has received “numerous” inquiries about marijuana business licenses, said Snyder, but has not, and legally cannot yet issue them.

Work is proceeding on several fronts and will be dealt with by several departments. The public services committee, for example, will deal with whether use of the narcotic will be included in existed bylaws that ban smoking in public parks.

This month the city’s municipal planning commission introduced a bylaw to insert several definitions into business licence categories for cultivation, production and retailing.

That allows the city to capture marijuana retailers in a special business class who might register early and — in absence of pot-specific rules -— be classified as general retailers.

Specific standards and setbacks, such as exist for liquor stores, could order they be kept certain distances from schools, community services zones or other pot shops, and could be increased from provincial guidelines.

This fall the province outlined a proposal for public comment that suggested an age limit of 18 for possession, and that public use would fall in line with tobacco use, which is largely prohibited outside private homes or in cars with children.

An Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission report on sales and retailing is expected early in the new year.

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