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Red Deer city council wants more cannabis retail regulation options

Council wrestled with setback distances from cannabis retailers on Monday

Red Deer city council put the brakes on cannabis retail bylaw amendments after concerns arose they were too restrictive.

Councillors proposed a number of amendments that would significantly reduce proposed setbacks from cannabis retailers to schools, recreation facilities, daycares and other cannabis stores.

Since the changes amounted to major changes, the bylaw could not have gone ahead without taking it before the public again at another public hearing.

Instead of debating and approving specific amendments, council asked staff to come back with a report within a month on setback options and their implications.

During a public hearing Monday, council heard from a number of people who said the bylaw was too restrictive and would leave too few locations where cannabis retailers could set up.

Ryan Sawatzky, developer of Timberlands Market, said the 300-metre setback from a daycare could have the unintended effect of making it more difficult for daycares to open.

Sawatzky, of Okotoks-based Developments 2 Inc., said he has a daycare in his development on 30th Avenue and the 300-metre setback leaves no room for a cannabis retailer in the 13-acre development.

Future developers could favour profitable cannabis retailers over daycares, leaving fewer child-minding options available to parents.

He suggested cannabis retailers be treated more like liquor stores and let the market decide where they set up.

“The market will get it right,” he said.

Commercial realtor Brett Salomons urged council to drop the 300-metre separation distances between cannabis stores.

If council wants to limit the number of stores, it should limit the number of licences and let the market decide where they go, said Salomons, who urged council to be consistent with regulations elsewhere.

Other speakers pointed out cannabis retail will be a legal business and should be treated the same way as other businesses. Rather than establish blanket setbacks, cannabis retail applications should be treated on a case-by-case basis, said one speaker.

A city online survey drew a big response with nearly 1,500 weighing in. The results generally support a more conservative approach, council was told.

Many of the city’s proposed regulations are much tighter than those proposed by the province or Edmonton and Calgary. For instance, the province proposes no cannabis retail within 100 metres of a school. Calgary and Edmonton proposed 150 and 200 metres, respectively.

Red Deer’s bylaw includes a 300-metre setback.

The province suggested a 10-metre setback from daycares. Red Deer proposes 300 metres.

Several people suggested council stick with the recommendations from the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission, which are not as restrictive as those Red Deer was considering.

Mayor Tara Veer said cannabis retailing has been a unique regulating challenge. It is like both tobacco, which has its own set of regulations, and liquor retailing, where issues such as impairment and social concerns have created another set of regulations.

Part of the challenge for Alberta’s municipalities is the “mixed messaging” coming from the province on how to deal with cannabis retailing, said Veer.

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