City of Wetaskiwin council witnessing complexities of cannabis

City of Wetaskiwin council witnessing complexities of cannabis

As council debates, issue of cannabis offers more questions than answers

It’s clear judging by the discussion about cannabis legalization that Wetaskiwin city council had Apr. 9 that much is unclear about this issue.

Sue Howard, director of infrastructure and operations, presented councilors with another piece of the cannabis puzzle, this time a request for council to look at an update map, retail locations and public consumption sites.

“At today’s meeting, Administration is presenting the updated maps to show the March 26, 2018 meeting results,” stated Howard in her report to council.

“Additionally, there are three locations being presented to Council with the associated costs to develop public smoking locations. The new topic for this meeting is item #11 on the updated Required Council Discussions Related to Cannabis Legalization document as follows. 11.Retail Sales. Should we limit the number of retail stores? If we do how do we accept applications i.e. lottery, first come, first served. Should we allow delivery?”

Councilor Wayne Neilson, when looking at the buffer zone map, stated he was happy to leave it as is, it’s a baseline for the community and council could wait and see if it meets the community’s needs.

Councilors didn’t comment much on the map and seemed happy with it.

Retail sales

The conversation moved on to three possible locations for public cannabis consumption. Howard explained certain laws prohibit cannabis consumption in places like apartment buildings or near children; hence, a public alternative should be made available to marijuana users. She said staff had identified three possible places, including near the airport, near the city lagoon and near the SE Industrial Park. She noted all three sites will require some work top upgrade, so should be included in the budgeting process.

Neilson said he didn’t like the SE Industrial park area, as the city is always looking to bring new business and having a public consumption area could discourage new business.

Councilor Alan Hilgartner echoed Neilson’s concerns, noting the city doesn’t allow public alcohol consumption, and cannabis should be treated similarly. Hilgartner said if the city must provide a public place, then it should cost the taxpayers no more than absolutely necessary.

Councilor Kevin Lonsdale said the city doesn’t have a lot of control over cannabis legalization because it’s coming from the federal government and provincial government. He said the city has already spent a lot of time on this issue, and it hasn’t even been legalized yet. He noted he also did not like the SE Industrial park location.

Councilor Pam Ganske agreed with Lonsdale the SE Industrial park is not a good location, and she also said the best site would be the one that requires the least money and work to upgrade. “I don’t want it to be a huge investment,” said Ganske.

Councilor Patricia MacQuarrie noted the three areas were towards the edge of the city; she asked if cannabis areas are pushed to the fringe, does that create a public safety issue? She wondered if anyone will even use these areas and wondered if the city should just wait on these issues until legalization comes into force. She said the City of Wetaskiwin could wait and see what other communities do.

Mayor Tyler Gandam noted the City of Wetaskiwin has done quite a bit of work on cannabis legalization, and has a fair head start. The city could afford to wait a bit if necessary.

Retail locations

The conversation shifted again, this time to retail cannabis locations within city limits. Howard noted the question was should the city limit retail cannabis locations, and if so, in what fashion?

MacQuarrie said she was in favor of limits. “I’m okay at one,” she said.

Neilson said usually he’s in favour of free enterprise, but in the case of cannabis he felt there should be some limitations. He said information from other jurisdictions indicates legalization of cannabis will impact Wetaskiwin’s emergency services.

Councilors discussed two to three cannabis outlets in the city, local preference, first come first served approval and mandatory security at all times.

Councilor Dean Billingsley stated he didn’t see how the city could possibly limit it to local owners and a first come, first served basis means someone has to decide who was first.

Council asked if the city has already received interest. City CAO Dave Burgess confirmed some inquiries have been made and they may not be ideal. “We have had some unsavory inquiries,” said Burgess. Burgess also noted first come first served may see these candidates be first in line.

MacQuarrie said there seems to be so many options and wondered if councilors actually have enough information to decide.

Councilors eventually decided to have staff come back to a future council meeting with more options for cannabis legalization and its effects on Wetaskiwin in relation to retail outlets.