Banff's Bylaw 420: Tricky elements to legalizing cannabis in national park

Banff's town council is working on Bylaw 420. That would be the cheekily labelled amendments to its land use bylaw pertaining to cannabis-related businesses.

Town council looking at rules related to cannabis ahead of federal legalization this summer

Banff's small retail footprint and popularity with tourists adds a few challenges when it comes to crafting the town's legal pot bylaws. Council is set to discuss specific rules later this month. (The Canadian Press)

Banff's town council is working on Bylaw 420.

That would be the cheekily labelled amendments to its land use bylaw pertaining to cannabis-related businesses.

Like all municipalities, Banff is looking at rules related to where cannabis retail shops can set up. There's talk of dealing with issues like clustering and restricting how close they can be to schools or daycare centres.

Council may also get to rules on where cannabis consumption will be allowed.

But Banff is a bit different from most municipalities; its commercial district is small and restricted in size.

The town is also a world-renowned tourism destination that draws millions of visitors every year.

The president of Compass Clinics — a cannabis business based in Calgary and Kelowna, B.C., — spoke to town council on Monday about the coming bylaw changes.

"There is cannabis in Banff today. I don't think I'm going to surprise anybody by saying that," said Dave Martin.

Economic benefits

Martin told council there will be a great many economic benefits to the coming legalization of cannabis.

His advice is that whatever rules are put in place, don't allow cannabis shops to cluster in one area. Rather they should be spread out so their benefits are shared with other businesses as well.

"If people are coming there for cannabis, they will shop around that area. As part of just retail mixed use, it's a good benefit as long as it is spread out throughout the community," he said. 

Banff's popularity with tourists is certainly part of the reason why the town says there's big interest by companies and entrepreneurs in being the first retailers to open — perhaps right on Banff Avenue.

The town's director of planning and development, Randall McKay, said it's why council wants to be ready with answers when the questions start coming.

"I think people are seeing the opportunity to capitalize on this new form of retail that we're going to see in society, that it's something that people want to be a part of," said McKay.

12 liquor stores in town

So far, council is looking at adding definitions to its land use bylaw for cannabis retail outlets, cannabis-related businesses and cannabis production facilities.

The actual detailed regulations that set out specific rules will come next. 

McKay said council will discuss the issue later in February. But time is running short — the federal government has signalled it would like legalization to happen this July.

There have been calls for municipalities to regulate cannabis businesses like liquor stores have special rules in some communities.

But Banff has handled that type of business differently, preferring to lend the free market some latitude.

Council decided to treat liquor stores as regular retail outlets. It's why some might be surprised to learn that the town has 12 liquor stores. 

Minister has power to veto town bylaws

Whatever rules town council comes up with for cannabis businesses, the final say still goes to the federal government.

McKay said the minister responsible for Parks Canada has the power to veto town bylaws.

For all these reasons, he acknowledges there's pressure to find the right balance.

"Banff has not just a regional but a national and international profile and I think we want to make sure we get it right before we open the doors here."