City approves 9 pot shop permits of 180 applications — so far

Less than three months before marijuana is legal in Canada, the City of Edmonton has approved only a handful of requests from retailers looking to open cannabis shops.

City started reviewing applications in early July

Now a laundromat on 82nd Avenue in Bonnie Doon, this location is one of the first to get a cannabis retail permit from the City of Edmonton. (CBC)

Less than three months before marijuana is legal in Canada, the City of Edmonton has approved only a handful of requests from retailers hoping to open cannabis shops.

The city has received 180 applications for development permits and has made 12 decisions — nine have been approved, one was denied and two others were withdrawn.

Coun. Ben Henderson said he's not surprised by the number of decisions, as municipalities didn't start considering permits until the law was passed in Parliament.

"We've always known the timing was going to be tight," he told CBC News Friday. "They'll be moving with as much dispatch as they can to get through the development permit[s]."

Calvin Chan, a planner with the City of Edmonton, said although it may seem like the department hasn't approved many applications, he feels the city is on the right track.

"I don't think there was any expectation that all of the stores will be open by legalization date, and I don't think any municipalities in Alberta are expecting that," he said.

I don't think there was any expectation that all of the stores will be open by legalization date- Calvin Chan, planner

Two development permit officers will work through the applications in a reasonable timeframe, Chan said.

"The staff that have been dedicated are appropriate to the amount of applications that we received," he said. "This is a big city and there's a lot of other developments going on and we can't neglect those developments either."

Owners of this strip mall on 82nd Avenue in Bonnie Doon told CBC News the building is up for sale. A numbered company is registered for getting a pot permit for this location. (CBC)

It is estimated it will cost the city about $9 million to put bylaws in place and enforce them — bylaws that will include rules about impaired driving.

The federal government will take 25 per cent of profits from cannabis sales tax, while provinces will take 75 per cent. Neither level of government has said how much Alberta municipalities will get.

Therefore, Henderson said, there's no chance of hiring more staff at the city to speed up the process of reviewing applications for development permits.

"At this point, we're not getting a dime back," he said. "The feds and the province are taking the gravy at this point."

A process with growing pains

Of the 12 decisions, one application from Al Canna to set up a location at 14971 Stony Plain Road was refused because it was within 100 metres of a park, Chan said.

Gerald Proctor, a spokesperson for Al Canna, said the company isn't convinced it's too close to MacKinnon Ravine Park. They might consider challenging the decision at the city's subdivision and development appeal board.

Chan said the city has to ensure the regulated distance exists between cannabis shops and schools, parks and libraries.

"We want to make sure that we do the most accurate measurements that we can and make an informed decision on that," Chan said.

Henderson said the process may have growing pains.

Coun. Ben Henderson outside a city committee meeting. (CBC)

"If you rush at it and make a mistake, there's no going back," he said.

"Once we're through it and it's happened, I think everything will be fine, but I think there will be some grief between here and there."

Each prospective retailer is different, Chan said, as some might be building from scratch while others have a lease in an existing building.

"A lot of that is in the hands of the applicant in terms of can they get the work done in time for legalization?" he said.

Applicants must also get retail licences from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. They have to go through background checks, which include financial, personal, professional and criminal evaluations.

Heather Holman with the AGLC said the checks can take between two and four months. There's no deadline for businesses to go through the licensing process with the AGLC, she said, and they can do it anytime after Oct.17, when marijuana is slated to be legal across the country.

Chan said the city will post updates on its website when decisions are made on development permits.

@natashariebe

About the Author

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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