Despite hours of debate poured into pushing for a $30,000 cannabis business licence fee, Prince Albert lawmakers have made a sudden change in pace and signaled support to reduce that by $10,000.
In July, councilors took nearly two hours to settle on a decision at an executive committee meeting, asking city administration to move forward on a $30,000 fee and to restrict store hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the city’s Cannabis Business Licence Bylaw. This would have gifted the Gateway to the North the steepest fees in the province and made it the lone municipality to restrict operating hours.
But in a 6-2 vote Monday night, councilors ushered through the first and second reading of the bylaw with just a $20,000 fee. The restricted hours remain in the legislation, and the cost for renewal will be reviewed in 12 months and adjusted if needed. Cannabis production and wholesale facilities will pay a $2,500 fee and $100 renewal.
Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski believed the reduced figure was a “more accurate representation of the time spent on this issue than any other fee we have discussed.”
“It puts us more in line with the norm across the province and it is clear we have been told these fees must reflect the amount of time that administration and the elected [officials] spend on this issue,” he said, adding how taxpayers should not bear the burden of administrative costs.
But Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha pointed out how nearly every other major municipality in both Saskatchewan and Alberta — with the exception of Saskatoon, which has likewise settled on $20,000 — has opted to treat cannabis in line with regular business licence costs.
“We will be seeing more [permits] come October, November (2019) when there are going to be more stores announced,” he said.
Administration initially proposed a $5,000 fee and a $1,500 annual renewal for storefronts, but a hectic late June meeting saw councilors direct staff to return with a report on $30,000 fee, citing the fact sellers will have a near-monopoly on the market due to the cap on provincial licences. Staffers were hesitant on charging this amount, worried it would fall out of line with what the city is allowed to charge under The Cities Act. This saw administration return with a $10,000 proposal and $100 renewal in July, calculating the cost of 350 hours committed to the process and charging accordingly, equating to roughly $25,000.
Speaking to media after the meeting, Mayor Greg Dionne, who was a keen campaigner for $30,000, said he was swayed, in part, to rumours the province may be generous with its cannabis revenue from the federal government and pass down 30 per cent of the 75 it is set to receive.
“If that happens, that will help us with our costs and our enforcement,” he said.
Dionne, however, maintained the city is within its right to charge for any costs to administer, regulate, and enforce the bylaw, and said the city will be monitoring its costs closely over the next year.
"It could be a simple renewal of ten thousand, it could be twenty, it could be more,” he said. “I would assume it would be [higher] but we hope we are close.”
Botha and Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller opposed the fee, while Zurakowski, Dionne, and councilors Blake Edwards, Dennis Nowoselsky, Terra Lennoz-Zepp and Don Cody voted in favour. Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was absent from the meeting.
FIRST CANNABIS STORE LOCATION APPROVED
Lawmakers also rubber-stamped an application Monday night for the first of two eventual cannabis storefronts in Prince Albert. Prairie Cannabis, owned by Jim Southam, will be located at 180 17th St. W.
In early August, council passed legislation to regulate retail cannabis stores 200 metres from schools, parks and each other.
Cannabis will become legal across Canada on Oct. 17.
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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