City council will soon consider what kind of regulatory framework will surround private sales of cannabis in the city.
At a Governance and Priorities Committee meeting on May 6, council and Mayor Rebecca Alty heard administration's recommendations on a buffer zone between retailers and sensitive areas such as schools, daycares and hospitals.
The territorial government's 23-page document regulating nearly all aspects of retail cannabis sale – including store layout, the price of cannabis and how it is marketed – does not address buffer zones.
City administration researched municipalities across Canada that already have private cannabis retailers to see how they are regulated. Most have created bylaws stipulating where stores can be located.
“I'm 99 per cent sure all other provinces have established these separation distances in their provincial legislation,” said Kerry Penney, the city's director of policy, communication and economic development.
Some municipalities like Edmonton require retailers be as much as 200 metres away from schools but considering Yellowknife's relatively small size, Penney says this would be far too restrictive and leave almost no space for cannabis sales.
“If we adopt a 200-metre buffer zone, we're essentially saying on one hand, we're permitting cannabis retail but prohibiting it on the other hand,” said Penney.
Administration is suggesting cannabis retail be permitted in the downtown commercial area, while employing a 100-metre setback from sensitive areas, such as schools, the hospital, recreation centres and from other cannabis retailers.
“Separation distances really should control the accumulative impact of having a bunch of stores together, minimize public perception where you have high concentration of cannabis and liquor stores,” said Penney. "Once we go through this process it will give us a chance to explore the impacts.”
Council was split on whether the regulations were necessary.
While Couns. Julian Morse and Cynthia Mufandaedza view the framework as reasonable, Coun. Niels Konge did not. He pointed out that there are a number of bars that are already located within 100 metres of a school, and called the buffer zone idea “silly.”
“For schools, it's prudent to have a buffer zone but that buffer zone should be done for alcohol and bars,” said Konge. “I think the kids and those types of facilities should be separated. If we're going to put more regulation on those types of things, we need to view alcohol in the same lens.”
Konge questioned how buffer zones would protect students from obtaining drugs or alcohol.
“If kids want it, they can get it,” he said.
Rather than buffer zones, the city would do better to enforce minimum age limits for purchasing and consuming cannabis or alcohol, he said.
Coun. Shauna Morgan said the issue was low on the committee's priority list.
“I don't see it as that big of a deal, I don't see it as the biggest burning issue that the city needs to be dealing with right now,” she said. “Sure, let's do some public consultation around this but I don't want this to use an excessive amount of staff resources to go and consult on every aspect of cannabis.”
Echoing Konge's statements, Morgan said she was skeptical that buffer zones would promote public safety in any meaningful way.
The city will be conducting consultations this weekend at the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce trade show on May 11, where the public will be able to weigh in on the issue.