Calgary committee recommends lighter restrictions for retail cannabis sales

The committee calls for tweaks to the city's recommendations for how far retail locations should be from schools, liquor stores and other pot shops.

Recommendations include how far shops should be from schools, liquor stores

Dr. David Strong, medical officer of health, says he wouldn't want to see a "cannabis outlet on every corner like Starbucks." (David Ryder/Getty Images)

A Calgary council committee has eased up on draft regulations for the sale of cannabis in the city, saying the original rules were too strict.

On Wednesday, city council's planning and urban development committee called for tweaks to recommendations from city staff regarding how far retail locations should be from schools, liquor stores and other pot shops. 

Frederick Pels, CEO of the Green Room, says establishing regulations now will help businesses prepare for the legalization of marijuana later this year.

"I think this is a big step forward and Calgary has been, quote, 'proactive' as legalization has been rolling in," Pels told CBC News on Wednesday.

Pels hopes to open several shops in Calgary once pot is legal. 

"I agree with a lot of the councillors' comments that it should be a little bit less vague and rules should be put in place a bit better, but overall they did a great job."

Workers produce medical marijuana at Canopy Growth Corporation's Tweed facility in Smiths Falls, Ont. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal government had set July as the date for recreational cannabis legalization, but the federal health minister has said that it could take eight to 12 weeks to get the retail system in place, which means Canadians likely won't be able to buy legal weed until August. 

The federal government is responsible for laws around possession limits, criminal offences and home cultivation, but rules surrounding zoning, retail locations and public consumption fall to provincial and municipal governments.

The committee recommended stipulating that liquor and cannabis stores can't be located next to each other, but that it would be fine for cannabis retailers to be located near payday loan operations and pawnshops. 

They also recommended scrapping a recommended 150-metre buffer between cannabis shops and post-secondary schools, given concerns that the initial proposal was too strict.

Coun. Peter Demong said he doesn't understand why some of the initial proposed conditions were so strict. 

"They're putting in some other separation distances from other locations such as pawnshops and payday loans that aren't in place for liquor stores, and I'm not entirely sure why there should be the differentiation," he said.

Pels said that while he's tentatively happy with the regulations, he's hoping for more clarity in the final rules.

"Entrepreneurs and my peers in the industry are going to be gambling every time they go in for an application."

Rules not restrictive enough, doctor worries

Dr. David Strong, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services, told the committee he worries the proposed rules are not restrictive enough and would make retail pot too accessible, driving up use.

Strong said this is problematic because there is insufficient research on the long-term effects of cannabis use. He recommended starting off with greater restrictions and potentially easing them after studying the local impacts.

"A cannabis outlet on every corner like Starbucks starts to convey to, certainly, young people that there are no harms associated with cannabis," Strong told council.

Other city bylaws still need to be changed before legalization.

Smoking, business licences and transit issues will go to a city committee in April.

The city is hoping to have bylaws in place by the end of April, and says on its website it will continue to enforce current legislation around marijuana sales until the new federal laws come into effect. 

With files from David Bell, Reid Southwick