Health officials not hazy about how to regulate pot in Edmonton

Health officials are warning Edmonton city council to be cautions about where cannabis should be consumed in urban areas to ensure smoking is not "renormalized."

City councillors trying to hammer out a set of rules for use of legal cannabis

A man smokes a marijuana joint at the Vancouver Art Gallery during the annual 420 day to promote the use of marijuana. REUTERS/Ben Nelms (CANADA - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY POLITICS) - GM1E84L0N1K01 (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Health officials are warning Edmonton city council to be cautious about where cannabis can legally be consumed.

Council's urban planning committee met Tuesday to hear from industry and health officials about how consumption should factor into bylaw changes to manage cannabis use after it is legalized this summer.

At question is where cannabis stores can be located, how close they can be to each other and where people can consume the drug.

City administration gave the committee three options to help decide how people use cannabis in public places.

Option one would be to prohibit any kind of public consumption. A city report said the second options allows "public consumption except in areas prohibited by provincial regulations and in areas where smoking tobacco is currently prohibited" under the city's smoking bylaws.

Option three would include more rigid restrictions than those under provincial rules, but would still allow exceptions for designated smoking areas at festivals and parks not used specifically for recreation.

"This is a fascinating public policy challenge," Mayor Don Iveson said at the meeting Tuesday.

"We want to make sure that we don't over-cluster the stores in any one neighbourhood."

The province will not allow a pot store closer than 100 metres to a school or health facility. Vaping or smoking pot will not be allowed anywhere kids are found, including outdoor pools, zoos and playgrounds.

We want to make sure that we don't over-cluster the stores in any one neighbourhood.- Mayor Don Iveson

City administration suggests larger buffer zones of 200 metres between stores and schools. Stores would have to be at least 200 metres apart.

"There's a risk that moving cannabis smoking out into more visible places might re-normalize smoking," said Dr. Gloria Keays, Alberta Health Services medical officer of health for the Edmonton zone.

"It's never a good thing to inhale second-hand smoke."

While smoking and vaping cannabis will be legalized in Canada this year, edibles will not follow for at least another year.

"We're seeing that the majority of users are switching from [smoking cannabis] to edibles, oils and consumable oils," said Cecil Horwitz with Spirit Leaf Inc., a recreational cannabis retail company.

"The body of people that are consuming is getting older, and those people don't want to smoke the product."

Costs mount for bylaw amendments

Iveson said while he's confident the city will hammer out a set of agreeable rules to manage cannabis, the cost to do it may fall on taxpayers if a better deal isn't offered by the province.

"We have no indication whatsoever that the property taxpayers won't be left on the hook for this," said Iveson.

The federal government has agreed to give provinces and territories 75 per cent of the excise tax collected on cannabis sales in the first two years after it's legalized.

"We're still asking the provinces for a share of the windfall of revenues they're going to receive and we still haven't had a satisfactory response from them."

Iveson said the city will spend about $12 million on bylaw changes, zoning and enforcement around cannabis legalization.

The city suggests charging $3,500 for a cannabis store business licence. With about 70 approved locations anticipated, that would bring in about $250,000 in immediate revenue.

The city is hoping to have all of the bylaw changes in place by May 23 to start accepting business applications by June.