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“Cannabis and Growing Brains?” Alberta’s 2 Key Cities Brainstorm Pot Policy

“Cannabis and Growing Brains?” Alberta’s 2 Key Cities Brainstorm Pot Policy

Dina Al-Shibeeb
Cannabis sales in Manitoba

Two key cities in Canada’s western province of Alberta are brainstorming in preparation for nationwide marijuana legalization. However, there are some questions left unanswered, which are riling its policymakers.

With a population of about 1.2 million, a proposal to restrict the proximity of cannabis stores to schools, child-care centers, liquor stores, payday loan businesses and pawn shops was debated on Wednesday at Calgary’s council committee, the Calgary Herald reported.

The debate lured a sizable audience of industry representatives to council chambers. It saw Calgary’s councilors recommending the city to relax proposed rules governing where cannabis stores will be operating.  

One of the councilors Jyoti Gondek urged to remove post-secondary institutions from a proposed list of sites with restricted proximities to cannabis retailers.

Gondek deemed these restrictions as both arbitrary and biased. 

“My question is if we’re saying you can buy it if you’re over 18, why do we have to separate it from a university?” Gondek asked.

“We’re trying to reconcile our social feelings and our inner-most thoughts about cannabis with how we’re going to offer that retail market. And that’s the thing we’ve got to be careful about, (we) cannot be alarmist in our views, we must look at the research that’s out there.”

In response, a spokesman for Alberta Health Services said this is partly because there isn’t a final say scientifically speaking on the long-term impact of cannabis use on growing brains.

Their ruling so far is to prevent setting up cannabis stores within 150 meters of schools, and another rule requiring a 30-meter buffer between liquor stores and pot shops. They also have another a guideline, which demands a 10-meter separation between cannabis stores and payday loan businesses and pawn shops.

Alberta Health Services has even much stricter guidelines, urging the municipal government not to allow cannabis sales within 300 meters of all schools, childcare and community centers or within 100 meters of liquor and tobacco retailers.

Too Much Restriction and the Black Market

Some industry representatives who were at the meeting said too much restriction would cause a boon to the black market.

“Every time you add a restriction you benefit a drug dealer,” one industry spokesman said. “They have no problem going within a meter of a school.”

Alberta so far is proposing a 100-meter buffer zone between stores and “places that children and youth frequently visit,” but municipalities will have the flexibility to alter that according to their communities’ needs.

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Edmonton

Edmonton about 281 kilometers away from Calgary is also thinking about its marijuana guidelines, with some of the regulators saying it will be far from straightforward.  

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Like Calgary, Edmonton is mulling what is the most appropriate distance for cannabis shops to be located from schools, parks and liquor stores.

During a community and public services committee meeting Wednesday, Edmonton councilors were given a breakdown of the bylaws they’ll be asked to amend this spring, CBC News reported.

“Will we get it right this summer?” Coun. Scott McKeen asked after the meeting. “No.”

CBC News reported that the bylaws include new business licenses, regulations about the consumption of cannabis in public, and the safe disposal of cannabis and its derivatives, and rules to deal with odors emitted from activities on privately owned land.

“Smoking in public of modern strains of marijuana will be unpopular with some people, because it stinks,” McKeen said. “People will notice and some people will be upset by it. So we have those potential conflicts we have to deal with.”

McKeen believes it will take years for Edmonton to improve its bylaws on marijuana as council and staff learn more along the way.

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