Mayor wants to prevent cannabis use in core of downtown Grande Prairie

The Mayor of Grande Prairie wants to prevent the consumption of cannabis in the city's downtown core once the drug becomes legal across Canada later this year.

Proposed regulations strike a balance between community safety concerns and access to recreational cannabis

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given says the city will review its cannabis bylaws within a year of passing them. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given wants to prevent the consumption of cannabis along several blocks of the city's downtown core once the drug becomes legal across Canada later this year.

Given raised the issue Tuesday during a meeting to review draft regulations on recreational cannabis use in the city.

Many municipalities across Canada are also grappling with how to deal with the legalization of cannabis on a municipal level and Given said his city is no different.

He said Grande Prairie intends to introduce tough bylaws that can be relaxed over time.

"It's reasonable for us to take a higher standard of regulation and then work down from there, based on community reaction," Given said. 

Education-based enforcement

The city's enforcement manager, Chris Manuel, presented the draft regulations at an infrastructure and protective services meeting on behalf of a committee, which includes the RCMP,  tasked with creating cannabis bylaws for Grande Prairie.

Grande Prairie intends to pass tough cannabis bylaws that can be relaxed over time, said Enforcement Manager Chris Manuel. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

He covered public consumption, personal cultivation, business licensing and land–​use bylaws.

"We'd be naive to believe that a strict prohibition is just something that's going to be adhered to," Manuel said.

"We're acknowledging that people should have the ability to access safe cannabis and the ability to consume it, but at the same time we're not trying to encourage it."

Grande Prairie will largely follow federal and provincial guidelines, Manuel said, with a handful of measures added by the municipality.

The committee proposed Grande Prairie follow federal law by allowing up to four cannabis plants per private residence but suggested the city add bylaws that require residents to apply for a permit, which would include stipulations such as keeping the plants away from minors.

Enforcement of the new rules will be on a case-by-case basis, Manuel said, with a focus on educating rather than punishing people who break the bylaws after they are first passed.

Andrew Boone says he will consider branching out his medical cannabis business in Grande Prairire once the drug is legalized for recreational use. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Protecting small businesses

Andrew Boone attended Tuesday's infrastructure and protective services meeting.

He's contemplating an application for his medical marijuana business, Leaf Wise, which offers consultation but does not sell cannabis.

Boone hopes the city will amend some of its bylaws to include more protection for small businesses such as his.

The current bylaws outline minimum distances between retailers and public places such as schools. Boone said that will place a premium on certain city locations, which he worries will be snapped up by corporations who have more money than local retailers.

"There's only going to be so many numbers of stores allowed," he said. "I hope that there are some opportunities for smaller type companies."

City council will vote on a final draft of bylaws on May 22, after which businesses can apply for a development permit to open retail locations. 

Applications can be filed over a nine-day period, from May 23 to June 1, without receiving preferential treatment based on the order in which they are received. 

The city will process applications submitted during that window by lottery, which is meant to prevent a race to file paperwork immediately after the new bylaws are passed.

People interested in Grande Prairie's recreational cannabis bylaws can raise their concerns at city council meetings until May 22.