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City council strays from liquor retail restrictions for cannabis industry

Wetaskiwin looking to avoid cannabis black market

Laying the groundwork for public consultation regarding the sale of recreational cannabis in the City of Wetaskiwin has begun.

City councillors approved several motions pertaining to cannabis retailers during their March 12 meeting. These ideas will be presented to residents during future public engagement sessions. Coun. Wayne Neilson felt it was important to stress everything said and approved during the meeting is simply council’s recommendation to the community and not a final decision.

As per the recommendation of administration, council approved the motion to have recreational cannabis retail businesses a permitted use.

Within the city liquor stores are not automatically a permitted use and Coun. Patricia MacQuarrie questioned why there would be different standards for the two groups of retail businesses.

Lisa Novotny, manager of engineering and development, and Sue Howard, director of engineering and development, feel if cannabis fell under discretionary use people in the area would object based purely on a “not in my backyard” mentality.

Novotny says while other municipalities — such as the City of Calgary — are making the retailers a discretionary use Wetaskiwin city administration say the permitted route is more business friendly and will cut down on the number of appeals.

As to where the retailers will be able to set up shop, council is looking at allowing the businesses in certain zones within the city, as well as establishing buffer zones between cannabis retailers and several other community features.

Council approved allowing the businesses in districts C1, downtown commercial district, outside of the downtown district overlay; C2, general commercial; C3, highway commercial; C5, shopping center commercial; DDO, downtown district overlay; and M1, light industrial.

“Our concept is it’s no different than any other retail business,” said Novotny.

When looking into setback and buffer distances, administration provided three maps of the city for council to consider.

Nonotny says the first options was business friendly, which would help minimize the cannabis black market in the city. However, the lax setbacks do not address the impact of cannabis and alcohol combined.

Option two could lead to retail clusters due to the restrictive setbacks, says Novotny.

Option 3 is a hybrid of the first two options. It considers the impact of alcohol and cannabis combined, ensures a variety of location potentials, and looks to minimize the cannabis black market.

Councillors amended administration’s recommended options in setbacks to: a 100-meter buffer zone between liquor and cannabis retailers; 150 meters between cannabis retailers and residential districts, religious assemblies, schools, day care facilities, community halls, and parks; and 50 meters between the stores and libraries and playgrounds.

A fourth map will be coming back to council so councillors will be able to visually ascertain how the setback will affect potential cannabis retail locations.

“I think there’s good value in establishing parameters consistent between liquor stores and cannabis retailers,” said MacQuarrie.

Howard says establishing buffer zones between the two shops will leave less locations for the cannabis retailers. She added a present concern of administration is restrictions will lead to a black market in the city.

Mayor Tyler Gandam says he was struggling between being business friendly and creating balance to protect the residents and the image of the city.

When the liquor industry was privatized the city did not have in place the bylaws that are now shaping its recreational cannabis industry.

Gandam says he understands having more cannabis retailers will not automatically lead to increased consumption, “But does that provide a bad image of our city?”

These questions are only the first of many administration will be bringing before council in the months leading up to the legalization of marijuana.

amelia.naismith@pipestoneflyer.ca

 

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