An application to rezone a property within Ponoka County may soon lead to the first retail cannabis store opening up in the area.
The property, which is located on Samson Avenue along Highway 2 on county land within the Maskwacis town site, was unanimously approved to be rezoned from urban commercial to direct control at the council meeting June 26, following a public hearing and then a vote.
Two written submissions were received — one against, from Samson Management, the company that operates many of the retail businesses at Maskwacis; and one in favour from the owner that plans on leasing the land.
“We wish to inform you that Samson Management objects to the reclassification for the proposed use of a cannabis dispensary establishment,” states the letter. “As part of the Maskwacis/Samson community, (we) feel that having a cannabis dispensary in the immediate community will be detrimental to the community well being and against its values.”
No one other than Green Nations Natural owners, Larron and Tina Northwest, attended the hearing. Larron is also a councillor on the Samson Cree Nation.
County council heard from Larron who outlined what the plan is for Green Nations Naturals.
“One reason we are going off-reserve is because of the severe lack of infrastructure at Samson. There is absolutely no space to open up a business,” said Larron.
“We also all know that the illegal drug trade on Maskwacis is alive and well and that is one of the things that we are trying to curb.”
He added that opioid use is high in Maskwacis and the hope is this will help turn those people to cannabis as a safer alternative. If the business gets off the ground, the hope is to employ Maskwacis resident and keep money spent locally.
“We want to provide a safe and inspected product within the guidelines, rules and regulations of the AGLC and Ponoka County. It’s going to be highly regulated and staff will be trained,” he said. “With this being a new industry, I feel that the AGLC is going through its strict process since it wants to get this right the first time.”
Coun. Doug Weir asked if the company has been granted a licence, with Larron stating ‘no’, as this rezoning is part of the licencing application process, with many more steps yet to go.
Coun. Mark Matejka wondered if any decisions had been made by any of the bands regarding public cannabis use, but Larron explained Samson’s band council has not really discussed the issue.
He was shocked to see the letter from the management company coming out against the application.
Cutforth also noted to council that this issue has a different look than a previous application for a medical cannabis facility, given the fact no one from any of the bands has attended to speak or sent in a submission regarding the application.
“Failing that representation, it puts a different light on things,” he said, adding that the county has always recognized the non-reserve portion of Maskwacis as part of that community and allowed what has been suitable to the community.
This is the first step of a lengthy process that Green Nations Naturals is taking in order to become a legal retail cannabis outlet. Among the next steps are applying for a county development permit, which would involve another public hearing process as well as the issue having to come before council once again to be approved.
The company will also have to meet strict rules from the Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) and go through their process before this can become a reality.
An amendment approved by the county last month to its land use bylaw made the application possible, said CAO Charlie Cutforth prior to the public hearing.
Council discussed and approved a new franchise and utility right of way agreement to ensure that Meridian Beach developer Inshore Developments will continue to have exclusive right to provide water and sewer services to the lots in that development.
Previously, the county had agreed to let the developer supply these services through a separate development agreement. However, the new agreement will leave any issues surrounding the services in the developer’s hands.