By Schnarr, J.W. on June 13, 2018.
Members of the community have now had a chance to speak on a draft amendment to the Land Use Bylaw which will govern how retail cannabis is dealt with in the city.
City council held a public hearing on the amendment bylaw Monday which was well-attended and featured presentations from: Gepke Stevenson, senior development officer, regarding the City’s plans for the amendment; Dr. Lizette Elumir, medical officer of Health South Zone, regarding recommendations from a health perspective; and by Rabbi Sidney Speakman, leader of the Joyful House of Prayer Congregation and spokesperson for religious congregations and citizens in the city who were looking to have a setback added to religious properties.
Stevenson provided background for the draft bylaw and informed council the public hearing would focus only on Land Use Bylaw rules to allow the sale of cannabis for non-medical consumption as a legal retail activity.
“Here we are today, just like every other municipality in our country, trying to figure out the best way to allow retail cannabis stores to exist in our community,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson described the Alberta approach to retail cannabis application as “well-balanced and enterprise friendly,” which was something City administration has attempted to continue.
Stevenson suggested “Retail Cannabis Store” be allowed as a permitted use in commercial districts where “Retail Store” is permitted.
This would include five districts in the Land Use Bylaw: downtown commercial; general commercial; highway commercial; neighbourhood commercial; and shopping mall commercial.
She noted there is no need for “level of fit” considerations that might go into discretionary use evaluations, citing the stringent Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission regulations as adding a level of certainty for City planners.
“We feel the impacts are no different than a retail store,” she said. “The parking needs and customer visits are probably the same. The land-use effects are no different than the retail stores themselves.”
The province recommends a setback distance of 100 metres from recognized schools and hospitals. But the setback works as a “two-way street,” meaning no future school or hospital developments could be possible within 100 metres of an existing retail cannabis store.
There has been concern that overzealous setback rules could create islands around the stores where development would suffer. As such, administration has not been in favour of the requirement to retain them for schools and hospitals, and has been in favour of treating retail cannabis the same as any other retail.
Lizette Elumir, Medical Officer of Health for AHS South Zone, provided public health input on the matter.
“Our biggest recommendation is community engagement ensuring organizations and the community can give feedback to retail stores planning to get established so that all the community is involved,” she said.
Among the AHS recommendations were: limits on the number of business licences permitted in the first phase; a 300- to 500-metre minimum distance restriction between cannabis retail outlets; a 300-metre distance between stores and schools, daycares, and community centres; 100-metre distance between stores and liquor or tobacco retailers; as well as a square-kilometre density restriction based on population
Speakman said the goal of his group was to have religious places of worship included in the list of setbacks and to increase those setbacks to 150 metres.
“I believe it is incumbent on this body to safeguard the children and the youth of Lethbridge,” he said. “The Government of Canada, and subsequently the Government of Alberta, have taken children and youth into deep consideration in the legislation they have passed. However, (both governments) overlooked institution that have been in place before public schools.”
He said due to the number of roles these facilities provide for children, they should also be included for setback inclusion.
He also called marijuana a “gateway” substance and linked its use to the opioid crisis.
“We do not need to continue down the avenue we are seeing in our city with the increase of drug use and opiates,” he said.
Following the public hearing, Coun. Joe Mauro asked for a postponement on a vote for the ammendment, saying he needed time to absorb and consider the amount of information provided.
Council will revisit the matter during their next regular meeting on June 25.
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