Planning for Change

Public attitudes towards marijuana have changed in recent years. Many jurisdictions in North America and around the world have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreational use, or both. Canada is moving in the same direction, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party promised changes to marijuana policy in their campaign last year. img_20161120_153108They promised to “legalize, regulate, and restrict access” to marijuana to make sure that adults in possession of small amounts do not end up in the criminal justice system, that those who need it to manage medical conditions can have the necessary access. However, Trudeau also wants to make sure that the drug is not accessible to children and young people, and that the profits from the trafficking and sale of marijuana do not support organized crime, human trafficking, or the proliferation of hard drugs. Earlier this year, the federal Health Minister, Jane Philpott, announced that a Canadian Marijuana Legalization bill will be forthcoming in Spring 2017. She said that this policy will be informed by solid scientific evidence and will both protect youth and enhance public safety.

Although drug policy is the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, there will be important roles for provinces and for municipalities in developing frameworks to regulate and enforce the federal policy. Alberta’s Justice Minister, Kathleen Ganley, went to Denver in October to do research on marijuana legalization in the State of Colorado. She met the state’s attorney general, officials from the City of Denver, including the police and fire departments, environmental health workers, and building and licensing experts to learn about the experience of marijuana legislation there.

The City of Edmonton also needs to be proactive when thinking about the forthcoming marijuana legalization. A change to federal policy that legalizes marijuana will require the development of bylaws, business licensing processes and zoning regulations, and enforcement procedures specific to sale and consumption of the drug. 107ave_beats_499Our city will need to make sure that people can get what they need and are legally allowed to purchase, that properly licensed businesses can operate, and that everyone in our city is safe and protected, especially young people.

There are medical marijuana dispensaries already operating throughout the city, including at least one in Ward 5. These dispensaries are operating in spite of the fact that there is no regulatory structure within the city, meaning that the rules and regulations remain unclear. This is probably frustrating for everyone involved, including neighbouring residents.

Councillor Mike Nickel brought the issue to City Council recently, asking for the city to provide a report on what is planned at the Federal Government level, and what bylaws are already on the books in Edmonton that can be used to regulate the industry. He said, “whether you agree with it or not,” marijuana is on a path to legalization in this country, and “it’s the municipality that’s going to deal with the consequences.”

In 2014, then-Ward 5 Councillor Karen Leibovici asked administration to provide a report outlining “the impact to the City’s business licensing and commercial zoning application processes, safety codes and compliance policies” in relation to the federal legislation Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation that established guidelines for the production of and access to medical marijuana. No changes to the City’s Business Licensing or Safe Codes processes were recommended at the time, but all Licensed marijuana producers have been required to establish facilities on sites zoned for industrial uses.

Since that report in 2014, however, much has changed at the federal level. The City of Edmonton needs to begin to consider the upcoming changes and plan how legalized marijuana will fit within our existing municipal regulatory structure including business licensing and zoning, as well as how these changes will affect the day-to-day operations of the police, fire department, and other municipal departments. img_3827There are already licensing and zoning processes in place for hospitality businesses like liquor stores and bars, and for other adult-only businesses in our city that shape where and how these kinds of establishments can operate, and what kind of enforcement is required. There are existing precedents for regulating these types of uses, for example a 500m separation distance between liquor stores in mature neighbourhoods.

A clear and well planned set of rules, regulations, and guidelines keeps bars, liquor stores, and other kinds of adult businesses away from schools and quiet residential areas, while making sure that businesses can stay open, adults can choose to make purchases there, and police and bylaw enforcement can work to keep our city safe for everyone. The City can plan ahead and start developing similar rules and regulations for a context that includes legal marijuana. I am interested to hear what you think, especially as residents of Ward 5 which is mostly made up of residential neighbourhoods. What steps do you think our city should take to plan for legalized marijuana? What kinds of rules and regulations would you like to see developed?

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