Ponoka prepares for legalized cannabis

While it’s still not legal to sell cannabis, the town is ready for the new legislation

By Emily Jaycox

Ponoka News Contributor

Changes to a Ponoka bylaw will pave the way for potential retailers to sell cannabis in Ponoka.

Following a public hearing during its regular council meeting on May 8, council passed second and third reading of Bylaw No. 399-18.

The proposal amends the town’s land use bylaw to include definitions for recreational cannabis, medical cannabis, and to assign medical cannabis production to a district.

“The way the bylaw stands today, somebody could come along, once cannabis is legalized, and say ‘oh it’s just a retail use, I can sell cannabis in any land use designation that allows retail,” said CAO Albert Flootman.

“Essentially the change to the land use bylaw includes…a number of cannabis-related definitions into the bylaw.”

The provincial government has already passed Bill 26: An Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis, and the pending federal legislation is anticipated to be passed by fall 2018.

“The purpose of this amendment is to actually define what cannabis retail is so that it can be properly regulated at an appropriate time in the future,” said Flootman.

“This is setting the stage for that.”

The bylaw provides definitions for medical cannabis, medical cannabis counselling, medical and cannabis production facility.

It also amends the definitions of home business and home office to exclude cannabis sales, production, distribution or counselling.

“This bylaw itself does not facilitate development,” added Tim Schmidt, director of planning and development.

A second bylaw, to be brought forward at a future time, would address locations and would be subject to a public hearing and council’s consideration, says Schmidt.

According to Schmidt, interested parties have already been calling the town periodically, asking when they could anticipate being able to apply for a permit.

Two residents spoke during the public hearing and one submitted letter was read in support of the bylaw.

In his letter, Dr. Hugh Porter of Battle River Pharmaceuticals says that allowing cannabis production in Ponoka would, “provide quality, long-term jobs for many people.”

Ponoka resident Curtis Jacobson, who ran for town council in the last election, voiced some concerns during the public hearing.

“Why the specifics?” said Jacobson.

“From a business standpoint I think it’s a weird interference in business,” he said.

“You say you’re preparing the groundwork, but really you are stopping anybody, like you said, from doing it.”

“We can’t debate it but your points are being taken … I don’t disagree with you,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett.

“We’re just preparing, that when the government makes it legal, we’ve got to decide how to go about doing it,” said Bonnett.

The provincial Bill 26 includes minimal requirements for cannabis production facility locations, and it will be up to municipalities to strengthen or weaken bylaws, says Schmidt.

“Let us figure out what this is going to look like, because I don’t think anybody knows what this is going to look like…federal government, provincial government or municipal governments,” said Coun. Teri Underhill.

“We have to look at our definitions so we can find the best fit, the best way, for this municipality,” said Underhill.

Council passed the bylaw unanimously. Coun. Carla Prediger was absent for the meeting, and Coun. Ted Dillon participated over the phone.

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