Saskatchewan

White City only Sask. municipality that says it plans to opt out of pot sales — for now

CBC News contacted all 37 municipalities the Saskatchewan government says are eligible for a cannabis storefront.

22 of 37 municipalities contacted by CBC say they plan to allow dispensaries; 10 others undecided

White City Mayor Bruce Evans says he wants to wait on cannabis sales until the new town centre is constructed, which is expected to happen in the next two to three years. (Matt Howard/CBC News)

The mayor of White City, Sask., says it's not official yet, but his town will likely take a pass on allowing cannabis to be sold in the community — at least for two or three years.

And so far, the town just outside Regina is the only municipality saying it plans to opt out of having a pot shop, according to a CBC News analysis that involved contacting mayors, councillors and officials from the 37 municipalities the province has deemed eligible for dispensaries.

The reason White City is taking a pass: there's no appropriate place to put a cannabis dispensary, said Mayor Bruce Evans. Town officials say the suburban community, located on the outskirts of Regina, has limited commercial space.

"Most of our businesses in White City are actually home-based businesses, so I don't think that a home-based business selling marijuana would be something that we would consider," he said.

"We're only five or six miles away from Regina so anybody who wants to buy it will be able to buy it in Regina, and we would like to take our time deciding whether or not [to allow] — and have a physical location that is suitable for — the sale of that product."

Evans said he would welcome cannabis retail once the community's planned town centre is built: an expansive development that will be the future home of restaurants and retail shops.

He believes it will be completed in the next two or three years and once is it, the site will be better suited for a dispensary.

Saskatchewan municipalities have the option to opt out of allowing cannabis stores. Of the 37 contacted by CBC, 19 said they plan to allow the stores. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC News)

The Saskatchewan government announced last month that marijuana will be sold by private companies after the drug is federally legalized, and the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority will issue about 60 retail permits to private stores located across the province.

Municipalities can opt out of allowing cannabis stores.

Saskatoon will be given the option of having seven licences, while Regina is allowed six and smaller cities such as Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Lloydminster will receive two.

The opt-out deadline is Feb. 28.

Half of communities on board

Where pot will be sold in Saskatchewan

The following 22 municipalities told CBC News they plan to allow dispensaries:

  • Esterhazy.
  • Estevan.
  • La Loche.
  • Lloydminister.
  • Maple Creek.
  • Martensville.
  • Meadow Lake.
  • Melfort.
  • Moose Jaw.
  • Nipawin.
  • North Battleford.
  • Prince Albert.
  • Regina.
  • R.M. of Corman Park.
  • R.M. of Edenwold.
  • Saskatoon.
  • Swift Current.
  • Unity.
  • Weyburn.
  • Moosomin.
  • Outlook.
  • La Ronge

Twenty-two out of the 37 eligible communities that responded to CBC indicated they are OK with legal pot shops opening and do not plan to opt out of allowing the retailers. Another 10 said they're not yet sure, and four others did not respond to CBC before deadline or declined to comment.

Municipal leaders offered a number of reasons as to why they are allowing cannabis sales in their communities. Those included funnelling money from the sale of pot away from criminals to government coffers and exerting some control over a drug that is already present, and taking advantage of a new economic opportunity and perhaps even tourism dollars.

"You look at it sensibly, it'd be just like saying, 'We don't want a liquor store here, so you've got people driving to the closest community that would have one, which would be Swift Current or Medicine Hat, which is an hour away to buy their goods, right? We have enough of that problem right now," said Maple Creek Mayor Barry Rudd.

Rick Lang, the mayor of Melfort, said at first the town's council was divided on the issue, but eventually arrived at the conclusion that dispensaries will be a legal business, so "it's something that we shouldn't discriminate against."

Some councils more hesitant

Many city and town councils are currently in the process of finalizing their decision around cannabis sales.

On Wednesday, Regina city council's executive committee approved a report from city administration that recommended Regina accept all six of the licences it is allowed under the regulations.

To opt out or not to opt out?

Here are the municipalities where officials told CBC News councils are undecided:

  • Assiniboia.
  • Biggar.
  • Canora.
  • Fort Qu'Appelle.
  • Humboldt.
  • Kindersley.
  • Rosetown.
  • Shellbrook.
  • Pilot Butte
  • Yorkton​.

Councils in both Outlook and Moosomin voted to approve cannabis dispensaries Wednesday evening.

This week, councillors in Moose Jaw voted to permit the two dispensaries the SLGA allotted to them.

Coun. Crystal Froese said the decision was unanimous and public support for the move was strong, which she said was rare for a seemingly contentious topic.

"I think this is actually a very unique situation. We really had the community come forward and really voice their opinion in a positive way," she said.

In Estevan, the council opted to allow one store instead of the possible two.

"There's a lot coming at us between now and July and we thought it would be easier for us to handle. You know, we're not a large city.… Start out with one and see how that goes," said Mayor Roy Ludwig.

Many communities who told CBC they were unsure cited upcoming council votes. 

For example, Yorkton Coun. Quinn Haider said it's unlikely council will pass up the opportunity for cannabis sales, but said more information is needed before they can formally decide, such as the age of consumption.

"It honestly seems like it's almost backwards to me. Like, 'here's your opt-out date, but we haven't given you all the information yet,'" he said.

Communities considering economic benefits

Many mayors told CBC News they believe dispensaries could be good for business, with Froese suggesting Moose Jaw could see some tourism dollars.

"It will be positive overall, I think, but it's not going to be huge. What it gives you the opportunity to do is bring a pre-existing market into the light, if you will," said Jason Childs, an associate professor of economics at the University of Regina.

He pointed to the opportunities for municipalities to collect revenue from business licences and property tax, depending on regulations, while at the same time having to incur costs around policing. Regina's police department, for instance, estimates legal marijuana will cost between $1.2 million and $1.8 million per year.

Childs cautions leaders, at both the provincial and municipal levels, to be realistic about how much money they can expect to bring in from cannabis sales. Right now, that's a big unknown.

"This is a complete mystery. We don't know, OK? And anybody who claims they know is selling you a line of goods."

He estimates in a year, the province could bring in $34 million in revenue, between the 75 cents collected from the proposed federal pot tax of one dollar a gram, and the provincial sales tax of six per cent.

Childs explained this is only the case if all the pot bought in Saskatchewan is purchased legally and not on the black market — a transition he believes will take years to happen.


Note: Officials in Battleford, Melville and Tisdale did not respond to CBC News before deadline. The mayor of Warman declined to offer a comment until a council vote. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca

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