Council's executive committee had a heated debate as they worked to iron out the local regulations surrounding retail cannabis.
Administration brought forward proposed rules on how to proceed with a new Cannabis Business Licence Bylaw to regulate storefronts, wholesalers and production facilities at Prince Albert's executive committee meeting Monday night. The rules outlined licence fees, penalty options, and other requirements for marijuana-based businesses.
After an hour-long debate, which became contentious at times, council approved a motion to explore a $30,000 cannabis business licence fee, asked for a report on reassessing that fee and reverting the licence back into the city’s possession upon a transfer request, and decided to discuss limiting the hours of retail cannabis stores from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The initially-proposed $5,000 business licence fee and $1,500 annual renewal for cannabis retailers was debated at length. Most councillors wanted to see a higher price tag, while others felt it was unfair to single out one industry. Most were content with the wholesale and production facilities licencing cost of $1,000, with a $100 annual renewal fee.
Planning Manager Lars Ketilson defended the $5,000 proposal by citing the time poured into crafting the law. He said city staff logged their hours and drafting the proposed law cost a total of $20,000.
“We can charge a fee that raises revenue that pays for the cost of administering, regulating and enforcing the system of licensing, inspections, permits and approval,” Ketilson said. “That is our framework for business licence fees."
The City of Saskatoon, which had its own drama surround cannabis regulation, narrowly voted to approve a $20,000 licencing fee Monday night. Saskatoon's council similarly defended its pricy proposal by calculating the cost of staff hours committed to the process and charging accordingly.
Mayor Greg Dionne was in favour increasing the fees, supporting $30,000, as he said sellers will have a near-monopoly on the market due to the cap on provincial licences. There are only two licences available for Prince Albert.
“They should be paying for that,” the mayor said. “No one else can compete against you. There is a value to that, a big value to that.”
Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp agreed with Dionne on the near-monopoly sellers will have, and pitched bringing back a report on increasing the price.
“To be responsible to the public purse, I think we need to charge a fee and annual renewal fee, because there are going to be costs to the city,” she said.
Lennox-Zepp initially sought a motion asking for a report on an increase to the cannabis business licence fee, but other councillors wanted more cost options. Her motion was amended and approved 6-3 to explore the $30,000 fee. Councillors Evert Botha, Charlene Miller, and Dennis Ogrodnick were opposed.
Ogrodnick was hesitant on the price. Though he said he understood why it needed to be high, Ogrodnick preferred charging the same cost as other business licences; $100. The Ward 7 councillor, however, did agree with the suggested 200-metre buffer for retail outlets from schools and parks.
Botha was uncomfortable charging an “excessively steep” licence fee solely to pot shops, wanting to also increase the cost of liquor store licences due to the burden alcohol abuse places on city police.
“Our police department operates at $50,000 a day, and if you assume half our calls are directly related to alcohol, we are spending $25,000 a day on alcohol enforcement calls,” the Ward 3 councillor said. “I can’t support these upfront licence fees for cannabis stores or other operators unless we look at the same for liquor stores.”
A final point of contention erupted when Lennox-Zepp moved for a reduction to liquor store hours to match the proposed hours for cannabis stores. Her motion did not sit well with Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards, however, as he believed it was off topic. Edwards and Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski, both visibly frustrated, called a point of order on those grounds.
“I believe this discussion on alcohol is totally out of order,” Edwards said. “This report was entirely about cannabis.”
Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky, who was chairing the meeting, first ruled the motion in order then proposed another solution, asking Lennox-Zepp to bring it back at a later date. After some punctuated back-and-forth snowballed into an uproar, Nowoselsk needed to bang the gavel to get everyone to calm down and ruled the motion out of order.
Dionne then pitched his 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. cannabis storefront operating hour idea, which eventually passed with only Miller, Lennox-Zepp, and Ogrodnick opposed. City staff initially proposed hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The proposed bylaw amendments and reports will come forward at the next executive committee meeting July 24 before heading to a city council meeting for final approval.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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