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Coaldale taking harsh approach towards cannabis legalization

Posted on September 18, 2018 by Sunny South News

In less than a month, the recreational use of cannabis will be legalized. The majority Liberal government had pledged to legalize cannabis during their 2015 election. Now, three years later, that promise will come true.

On Oct. 17, it will officially be legal to consume and sell cannabis, although the later will be strictly regulated. In Alberta, cannabis retailers can sell from storefronts, while the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will be the sole online supplier. Many municipalities, such as Picture Butte and Lethbridge County, have or are preparing for legalization by amending existing land use bylaws to regulate the sale of cannabis within their borders.

For other municipalities, the process is a bit more complicated.

The Town of Coaldale has wrestled with the idea of cannabis legalization for a few months. Following the results of a survey that sought residents’ opinions on cannabis in town — in which roughly half of respondents said they were for and roughly half said they were opposed — a potential bylaw, which limited the consumption of cannabis to indoors, was introduced at Coaldale town council’s June 25 meeting. However, some members of council were dead set against cannabis in Coaldale period, and a legal opinion was sought over whether or not it was possible to ban it altogether.

A legal opinion was received and presented to council during their regular July 9 meeting, but the matter was adjourned to a special meeting called on July 23, to allow for council to review the opinion. Ultimately, while council was allowed to prohibit the establishment of cannabis stores in town through the land-use bylaw and ban the consumption of cannabis on public property, they cannot dictate where on private property someone can consume cannabis.

Bylaws doing just that were presented at council’s regular Sept. 4 meeting and given first reading, and now just two meetings remain before the legalization date.

Keep in mind originally, up until about the beginning of this year, the target legalization date was July 1, 2018. In mid-June it was announced a date of Oct. 17 had been set for legalization.

In addition to the final two meetings, the town intended to host a second open house on the issue — which went last week — and hold a public hearing during the Oct. 9 council meeting  — their last scheduled meeting before legalization.

Coaldale is cutting it extremely close, and that is concerning.

It would be one thing if the legal opinion was sought back in April, and the second open house was held in May. With just two scheduled meetings left, if any major revisions are needed it could leave Coaldale without any bylaws regulating cannabis use in place come the Oct. 17 deadline, despite administration’s assurances. The question could be asked, was the town putting off a bylaw on a sensitive topic simply because they don’t like the federal mandate.

It is already apparent some members of council don’t like it. Mayor Kim Craig has said it was “very unfair of senior levels of government to launch this on our laps,” and when a draft bylaw was first introduced, Coun. Jacen Abrey, who requested the legal opinion, had asked administration why they didn’t include the option to ban cannabis altogether.

Under the current proposed changes to the town’s land use bylaw, retail stores are banned while grow-ops are to be considered a discretionary use in the industrial district. Basically, you can grow it here, but you can’t sell it here.

Come Oct. 17, recreational cannabis will be a legal product. The question is should council be prohibiting the sale of a legal, regulated product?

Coaldale Coun. Brianne Simpson has admitted the town is prohibiting free enterprise at last week’s Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce meeting. While meeting with a group of business-minded people, the town tried to argue they are just being cautious, that they are waiting for other municipalities to work out the bugs, that it is easier to regulate heavily at first, then loosen the rules up. Also, that it may negatively impact business and people will be afraid to park near it in fear of association.

The chamber did not think much of those arguments, and although one member did send in an email in support of the town’s bylaws, those present voted to support a bylaw regulating, but not prohibiting, cannabis sales in town.

The town has also pointed to concerns from Alberta Health Services, who wanted the setbacks increased from 100 metres to 300-500 metres from paces such as schools. AHS does have a point, recreational cannabis is not good for you according to some studies, but another thing that isn’t good for you is alcohol. Coaldale has three liquor stores within a quick walk of downtown, with one of those across from the public library, with another just a couple of blocks from a PS-Grade 9 school. The local high school is within an 11 minute-walk to three liquor stores in town. However, they were allowed to set up shop there, and alcohol was once an illegal substance in Canada too.

Ultimately, the town has tried to argue that this isn’t a morality issue. But it is. Coaldale could easily put in strict regulations detailing how a cannabis retailer do business, but by going for a complete prohibition of sales the town is sending the message that certain types of lifestyles aren’t welcome in Coaldale.

Maybe Coaldale isn’t on the radar for a potential cannabis retailer. But nearby City of Lethbridge has just approved roughly 14 cannabis retailers, pending approval from the province, and come Oct. 17, cannabis will be legal throughout Canada for recreational use, and you can be sure they won’t be taking their business to Coaldale.

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