Blackfalds hashes out community cannabis rules

The public consumption of recreational cannabis, when it becomes legal in October, is a hot topic for municipal councils throughout the region. Kevin Gould/Postmedia Network

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Cannabis consumption will likely be allowed in Blackfalds come the Oct. 17 legalization date, pending second and third readings, but retail, distribution and production will be prohibited until 2019.

During their last regular meeting, council was presented recommendations from the Cannabis Community Action Committee on land use and development, community standards and enforcement, and human and social services. They also gave first reading to a smoking bylaw.

Like many surrounding communities, including the City of Lacombe, Blackfalds will pursue a ban on public consumption of recreational cannabis, as well as consumption of both tobacco and cannabis within 10 metres of any parks and playgrounds, and five metres from publicly accessible buildings.

Where the town differs, however, is on the land use and development front.

In June, council made the decision to place a moratorium on cannabis-related business permits. That moratorium will remain in effect until council reviews and updates their current Land Use Bylaw – a process that won’t see first reading given until February, and final approval in April 2019.

While recreational cannabis will become legal nation-wide Oct. 17, and the town will lag behind other central Alberta communities like Lacombe and Red Deer in allowing cannabis-related businesses, Mayor Richard Poole says he doesn’t believe the moratorium will hurt the town’s ability to attract those businesses.

“We put the moratorium on because we didn’t have regulations in place. We need to have these regulations in place before we could move forward,” he said. “We will be moving forward and we will pass bylaws and once they’re passed, the areas we have available (for cannabis related businesses) will still be there.”

Under land use, the town is looking to prohibit all commercial production, processing and retail from residential zones. They would be allowed in Industrial Light District and Industrial Heavy District, just as other production and processing facilities would, so long as they meet Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission requirements.

Retail stores, meanwhile, will be allowed as a discretionary use downtown – Commercial Central District – and along Hwy 2A (Commercial Highway District).

The recommendations include a minimum 100-metre setback from any land or building defined as a school. However, as noted by administration, the setback will not apply to Little Star Play School and After School Program, as it is not recognized by Alberta Education as a school.

Development permit fees will also be increased for cannabis-related businesses.

“We found that for cannabis use, because of the amount of regulation and planning that has come in, (the permits) are somewhat high than other business, but right in line with other communities,” Poole said. “We want to recover costs that are involved with the regulation and permit process – we actually lose money on the majority of our processes, so we wanted to make sure this is there.”

Meanwhile, on the enforcement front, bylaw enforcement will by asked to use discretion, rather than pursue charges for offences, over the course of the next six to eight months – an “educational transition period” affording officers the opportunity to educate the public on the smoking bylaw, as well as other cannabis rules.

Medical marijuana use has yet to be completely hashed out, however. Council did express concern about the proposed bylaw reading as though medical marijuana consumption would be allowed at parks and playgrounds. Administration was directed to consult with solicitors and present any changes, if needed, at the next council meeting when the smoking bylaw goes before council for second and final readings.

An open house will be held tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 2, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Blackfalds Community Centre.

Members of council, as well as the Cannabis Community Action Committee will be on hand to present the aforementioned recommendations for all three areas – Land Use/Development, Community Standards/Enforcement, and Social and Human Services – to the public, as well as answer questions on the proposed changes.

For more information on the Town of Blackfalds’ proposed smoking bylaw, and cannabis recommendations, visit https://www.blackfalds.com/public/download/documents/53503.

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