Residents speak up at cannabis public hearing

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Town still waiting for federal and provincial governments to provide details into legislation

The Town of Bonnyville requires more direction from the federal and provincial governments before they will pass their bylaws regulating cannabis.

“There’s a lot of information that we will be relying on the federal and provincial government on to undertake regulations,” Mayor Gene Sobolewski said. “We’re not going to draft and finish a bylaw without having that kind of detail from the province or federal government.”

During the Tuesday, June 12 council meeting, the public had an opportunity to share their thoughts on the town’s current land use bylaw surrounding cannabis, keeping in mind there are still some particulars that have to be ironed out.

“We’re likely going to be making amendments once they (the provincial and federal governments) figure out what they’re going to be doing,” added Sobolewski.

So far, the town has confirmed cannabis retail outlets will not be permitted within 150-metres of a school, park, playground, childcare centre or children’s recreation centre, school reserve or municipal school reserve, or provincial healthcare facility.

This wasn’t an area residents were against. In fact, the setback had been determined based on feedback provided by the public during an open house in May, as well as council’s opinion. However, there was one resident present at the public hearing that described the buffer zone as “a bit strong.”

The land use bylaw indicates there has to be at least a 20-metre standard road-width separation between residential district zones and cannabis stores.

During the public hearing, residents were curious as to why this was included in the regulations.

CAO Mark Power, confirmed it was to prevent cannabis stores from opening up shop in residential areas of town, however for retailers interested in the south side of Bonnyville, this particular buffer zone won’t be an issue.

“This was in relation to 51 Ave., which is zoned commercial and has a back lane between it and a residential street,” he explained. “Right now, they have to be at least 20-metres from a residential zone in a commercial zone. This almost relates entirely to 51 Ave.”

Council didn’t see the need to include a setback from a cannabis store and a location selling alcohol.

“Provincial regulations won’t allow liquor stores to sell cannabis, but you could have a store right next door if the bylaw is passed the way it is now,” Power detailed.

Cannabis retail outlets will also be able to set up shop beside another cannabis store, however residents who attended the open house specified there should be a limit on signage.

Portable signs and signs that promote marijuana usage won’t be allowed, however a retailer selling cannabis will be required to have one sign on the front of their building indicating the name of the business.

Shane Thomspon, business owner of a modular home company in-town, wondered about the physical requirements of stores and whether modular structures would be adequate.

“I’m looking at designing dispensaries and selling them. It’s an interesting idea. We do modular houses and that’s why I plan on doing that.”

He was wondering if a modular building would be considered “permanent” as described in the bylaw.

Power said, “What the building is, that could be whatever is approved on that site. Where the site is is what we’re regulating here.”

Thompson was also curious about whether the town was considering limiting the number of stores within Bonnyville. 

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) is responsible for distributing licenses throughout the province. This could mean Bonnyville may end up with a few cannabis retail stores, if they’re approved.

The province has given municipalities the ability to limit the number of stores within their community, however the town has decided not to.

“We probably could. Should we be limiting? Essentially, council lets the private market dictate that, because it’s a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line?” Sobolewski expressed. “I think fair market is the best way.”

Power added, “The AGLC has to approve the license, so if they’re willing to approve three for Bonnyville, the way this bylaw is worded is that we would allow three.”

So far, the town has had four or five inquiries, but only three of them were described by Power as “serious.”

On June 11, the Town of Bonnyville received a letter signed by seven residents asking the town to ban the sale of recreational marijuana.

Sobolewski read the letter during the public hearing.

“I would ideally like to not see this come to Bonnyville at all, but if that happens, here are my proposals,” Sobolewski read.

Their request to council is for them to consider only allowing residents to consume cannabis on private property, permit only one medical marijuana store, restricting the stores hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and when transporting cannabis in a vehicle that it must be secured in a closed package.

The residents also wanted council to consider limiting the amount of cannabis a person can purchase within a day, or even a week.

Keeping the comments made by those present at the public hearing and represented through the letter, council will either make amendments to the bylaw or continue as-is.

Sobolewski said, “The biggest thing for us, is allowing stores, and setting set back distances and things of that nature. After that, we’re still waiting on the province. We’re only giving second reading and that’s when it stops until the federal and provincial governments figure out what they want to do.”

“From looking at it as a retail or dispenser, they’re just a business and I don’t have a problem with their shops being in town, because ultimately, if a person really wants it… they’re going to source it out and find it somewhere,” added Coun. Elisa Brosseau.

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