By Trevor Busch
Yesterday in retail locations from coast to coast, Canadians were able to make their first legal purchase of cannabis.
Almost a century has passed since Canadians witnessed the end of alcohol prohibition in most provinces, and there has been no event since that would compare with this watershed moment unfolding across the nation in 2018.
In the Taber/Vauxhall area, municipalities have been grappling with cannabis-related land use bylaws, business licensing, and public consumption rules right up until the proverbial last minute. Which means there won’t be any cannabis retail opening their doors in Taber or Vauxhall, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
“We haven’t received applications yet,” said Phyllis Monks, planning director with the Town of Taber, during an interview earlier this month. “We’ve had several people express interest, and we have a list of those parties that want information when our bylaw was finally passed, so we’ve gone back to contacting them and just kind of giving them a heads up.”
Monks said interested parties are not outed publicly until a development application is approved and advertised, when it comes before the Municipal Planning Commission, or when the application is approved or denied, which also requires advertising.
She did confirm there has been significant interest in the cannabis retail application process.
“Absolutely. There’s been some that have been waiting ever so patiently, calling us every few weeks and asking us what the process is and what’s happening next.”
In Taber, cannabis retail sales are a discretionary use in the downtown commercial and comprehensive commercial districts, but not within 100 metres of any school or hospital use. More specifically, separation distances include hospitals, post-secondary, private, elementary and secondary schools.
Before a cannabis retail operation can open its doors in Taber, a number of regulatory hoops need to be jumped through by the prospective owner.
“They’ll have to come in to the town and apply for a development permit, and that development permit application has to be processed before they can apply for a building permit. Superior (Safety Codes) won’t accept building permit applications until we have a development permit application. In this case for cannabis, then it also actually has to go to AGLC (Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis).”
Taber now has a separate business license for cannabis-related businesses which requires police checks. Hours of operation for cannabis retail sales will be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with preferred licensing fees of $500 per year for cannabis retail sales, $1,000 per year for cannabis lounges, and $2,500 per year for cannabis production/distribution.
AGLC rules for approval are stringent for employees and business operators, but if the town feels the process lacks the proper oversight, it can mandate background checks of its own.
“So we sign off on the approval considering the application, and then it has to go through that additional step of taking it to AGLC for approval,” said Monks. “And so that will then include the screening of the people that are opening up stores, screening of anyone that’s going to work in the store, all of that occurs through that process. And we also have that ability through our business license to do that if we felt that it wasn’t in depth enough with AGLC, we have the ability to do a police criminal check.”
Most pre-existing vacant buildings would need to be renovated to meet AGLC regulatory standards.
“So they’ll go through all of that process. I’m assuming most of these situations are going to need a building permit application because I think even if they were going to go into some of these older buildings, they would have to do enough modifications in order to meet the requirements of the AGLC that they would probably have to go through that process as well,” said Monks.
The validity of any potential appeal won’t be based solely on moral or personal objections, but will be weighed after examining guidelines in the land use bylaw, according to Monks.
“If someone was to appeal it, it would go to the Subdivision and Development Board, but typically those kinds of appeals have to to be related to the legality of the situation. SDB is probably going to look at what the guidelines in the land use bylaw are, or the guidelines in the regulations, to begin determining their decision. They wouldn’t just refuse it because someone indicated they didn’t want that type of business in town.”
Processing applications takes time, and approvals must be made, so locals won’t be able to get their hands on any legal cannabis unless they travel outside municipal boundary lines or take advantage of the province’s online sales system.
In the Municipal District of Taber, a cannabis production facility will soon be going into operation, but right now the municipality hasn’t seen any retail applications for any of its hamlet locations or other areas.
“Other than that, there’s been zero,” said Kirk Hughes, development officer for the M.D. of Taber. “That said, I don’t expect them not to come in. Eventually I expect they’ll start coming in closer to Oct. 17, but we haven’t received any information either way about it. It’s early, it’s in our latest bylaw. If we got an application we would process it like anything else, but we haven’t got any. So far we’ve been able to dodge the bullet.”