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Council examines cannabis store buffers

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

The City of Camrose council is seeking public feedback regarding potential 150 metre buffers between cannabis stores and schools and health centres. Above is a map with the province minimum of 100 metre buffers. Supplied/City of Camrose

The City of Camrose council is seeking public feedback regarding potential 150 metre buffers between cannabis stores and schools and health centres. Above is a map with the province minimum of 100 metre buffers. Supplied/City of Camrose

City of Camrose administration is proposing a 150-metre buffer to be put in place between any school or health care centre and businesses selling cannabis.

The regulations were brought forward to the committee of the whole meeting on June 4 for discussion. Council will now seek public input at two open houses, this past Tuesday and on June 19 at the Recreation Centre.

The guidelines policy has become necessary as the federal government is set to legalize the use and retail sale of cannabis sometime this summer. It has been left up to the provinces to determine distribution regulations, much like alcohol, and Alberta, while maintaining control of distribution of cannabis and online sales, is moving forward with private sector sales.

The 150 metre buffer zone would also include the Camrose Public Library due to the amount of youth programming currently undertaken by the library, while other recommendations were made by the Camrose police Service to include Camrose Open Door. The Province is requiring a minimum of a 100 metre buffer around schools and health care facilities but is leaving it up to the individual municipalities to set their own guidelines.

City of Camrose planning and development senior development officer Colin MacPhee said the goal is to strike a balance between harm reduction and compliance with the province.

"The Province has set forth 100 metre distances, we can expand on those but we can't contract them," he said. "It's more prudent to be a little more restrictive at first and if those regulations prove to be too confining you can reduce certain distances or relax those regulations if it's appropriate for the community."

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will carry our licensing and compliance functions for private cannabis retail, as manage the distribution of cannabis. Municipalities, still get to determine where these businesses can set up shop with minimum guidelines provided by the Province through Bill 26 – An Act to Regulate and Control Cannabis. Alberta Health Services has also published guidelines related to the legal sale of cannabis, with the observance of the precautionary principle being the primary message.

This policy would not have any baring on where smoking cannabis in public would be permitted, that is covered by the smoking bylaw.

Buffer zones would extend from the edge of the property lines, not the building.

MacPhee also presented options for 100 and 200 metre options, the latter would make it almost impossible for a cannabis business to operate downtown due to the overlap with the library in particular, pushing the operations to the outer limits of town. The buffers are also in place between cannabis stores, meaning there would have to be at least a proposed 150 metres between shops selling cannabis. This is to prevent a clustering and overabundance of stores.

When the policy is complete it will become part of the Camrose Land Use Bylaw which is also currently under review.

Cannabis stores would also be limited to three commercial districts in Camrose, as per the proposed Land Use Bylaw, the downtown core, 48th Avenue and the east industrial district. In other words, residents do not need to be concerned with a store popping up in their neighbourhood.

"We cannot outright ban cannabis retail," said MacPhee. "The right balance in general is to make sure we provide adequate distance away from those sensitive sites while not making it impossible to establish a cannabis retail store."

Also under consideration, as part of the land use bylaw, are a new category of business license fees, which would place these types of businesses in a new category of high risk licenses for $1,200 a year.

Many communities have already put these policies in place, though MacPhee said administration was doing its due diligence in putting together this policy. In preparing this bylaw they took a look at what other centres like Edmonton and Calgary have done but are looking for a "made in Camrose" solution.

"Our plan is to make sure we're ready to go once the federal government is ready to go," said MacPhee, noting he hopes to have the bylaw ready for first reading in July.

Cannabis was originally set to be legalized by the federal government on July 1, but that date is no longer likely, with it being pushed to a vague date of later this summer.  

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