Despite uncertainty and tight timeline, city will be ready for legal pot, councillor says

An Edmonton city councillor says the city still has a lot of work to prepare for cannabis legalization, but expects to be ready for July implementation.

However, Andrew Knack says deadline extension would be welcomed

Coun. Andrew Knack expects Edmonton will be ready for cannabis legalization, currently slated for July. (Canopy Growth Corp.)

An Edmonton city councillor says that although the city still has lots of work to prepare for cannabis legalization, he expects to be ready by the July deadline.

Andrew Knack, Edmonton's councillor for Ward 1, says the city was waiting for the provincial framework before making any policy decisions. That framework, released in October, recommended cannabis laws fall under existing tobacco laws.

Four different city bylaws — affecting land use and zoning, public spaces, business licensing, and waste management — could be affected by cannabis-related amendments.  

As part of its research, the city did a three-week online survey in November and December, asking eight questions to get a sense of what matters to residents. 

The survey found cannabis-impaired driving and public smoking laws are of most concern to Edmontonians. Police chief Rod Knecht has said that with no reliable way to prove cannabis impairment, policing impaired driving will be "a quagmire for a while."

In answer to another question, 68 per cent of survey respondents expressed concern about the distance between cannabis stores and places where children gather. Knack said the city is exploring bylaws to regulate how close retailers can be located to public places like schools and parks.

The city is also looking at separation between the stores themselves, similar to regulations around liquor stores; the survey indicates that Edmontonians are less concerned about that separation.

"We still have some work left to do on the city side," Knack told CBC's Radio Active Tuesday.

Information about potential bylaw amendments was to be presented to council on Nov. 6, but has been deferred to Feb. 21. A city spokesperson said that despite the delay in presenting the report, the city still plans to meet its July target.

Knack said while cannabis regulations will likely align with smoking bylaws, some of those bylaws may be worth a second look.

For example, he said, smoking is permitted throughout Fort Edmonton Park. Knack questioned whether that would still be desirable when cannabis is legal.

Not opposed to extension

Although the city is on track to be prepared for legalization in July, Knack said Edmonton — along with other municipalities — would be relieved if the deadline moved back a bit.

"I don't think it would be a bad thing," he said. "There are obviously a number of municipalities that might not have the same staffing capacity that the city of Edmonton has that may need additional time to prepare themselves."

Knack said he doesn't see any harm in pushing back the date, but said at some point, the federal government will need to set a firm date for cannabis to be legalized. Originally thought to be Canada Day, the Liberals said in November cannabis legalization is slated for "the month of July."

Knack says the city isn't opposed to a deadline extension, but says there will be growing pains and adjustments regardless of when legalization comes. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

"No matter what date is ultimately set, it's still going to be sort of a learning experience," Knack said. The growing pains will happen regardless of whether cannabis is legalized in July or down the road, he said.

"We're going to set rules and we're going to have to learn from the implementation to see how it's working," Knack said. "We'll likely have to adjust anyway."

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the afternoon crew on Twitter @CBCRadioActive.