Zoning legal pot stores on the agenda for Edmonton city councillors

Edmonton city councillors will begin looking at rules around the sales and consumption of legal cannabis starting with zoning bylaws this week.

Bylaws likely to be modelled after rules around liquor stories and cigarette smoking

Edmonton city council will look at zoning bylaws for cannabis retailers on Tuesday. (Peter Evans)

Edmonton city councillors will begin looking at rules around the sales and consumption of legal cannabis starting with zoning bylaws this week. 

Cannabis will be sold through a government-run website and privately-owned retail stores when it becomes legal in Canada later this summer. 

Provincial regulation requires a buffer zone of at least 100 metres to separate cannabis shops from each other, as well as from schools, libraries, parks, and recreation centres.

City administrators propose doubling the distance between stores, as well as the location of shops from schools and recreation centres.

On Monday, Coun. Ben Henderson said he has concerns about the Old Strathcona area in his ward where many prospective retailers have expressed interest in setting up shop. 

Henderson said it makes sense to follow existing rules that prevent clustering of liquor stores but the restrictions raise new questions.

"Do we do it as a first come, first serve?" Henderson asked. "How do we actually figure out who gets in there first? Because I think there's going to be more interest than space to do it."
Jupiter employee Tyler Brooks says his store has applied to sell weed on Whyte Avenue when it's legalized.

On the corner of Whyte Avenue and Calgary Trail, a sign promotes a soon-to-open medical cannabis store.

Right across the street, long-time retailer Jupiter sells pot-related products.

Employee Tyler Brooks said his store has applied to sell weed when it becomes legal later this year. 

"It only makes sense that someone who's been a staple of the community for so long would be trusted with the retail of pot," said Brooks.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission is responsible for granting cannabis retail licences.

Regulating pot smoking 

Next month, Edmonton city council will tackle other cannabis issues that fall under municipal jurisdiction like smoking pot in public.

Options include a complete public prohibition to implementing rules similar to those followed by cigarette smokers.

On Whyte Avenue Monday afternoon. where weed could often be smelled on the street, some didn't think regulation should be too restrictive.

"People smoke joints all the time on their way to work, it's the everyday guy," said Daniel Main as he smoked a cigarette.

Jupiter store employee Brooks said adopting existing rules for tobacco would save councillors a lot of effort.

"We already have bylaws about smoking cigarettes and they're both equally as pungent a smell," he said.

Coun. Michael Walters said it seemed logical to use bylaws that deal with tobacco smoke.

"But then there's the question of people just walking out of a bar like they would to have a cigarette," he said. "Are they going to be able to walk outside a bar to smoke a joint?

"I think these are going to be some tougher conversations for us to have."

Walters said the more the city chooses to regulate, the more enforcement is needed.

"Which of course becomes a cost issue and then there's uncertainty around cost recovery as we head down this road anyway," said Walters, noting the city is negotiating with the federal and provincial governments "to ensure that municipalities get a sufficient amount of revenue."

A two-year agreement reached late last year gives provinces 75 cents of every dollar of excise tax levied on cannabis, with the amount collected by Ottawa capped at $100 million each year. 

It isn't clear how much of that money will get filtered down to municipalities. 

Edmonton has estimated it will spend about $4.5 million to change and enforce new bylaws, and another $5 million to $7 million on increased policing.