Municipalities are scrambling after news that the province expects them to make a decision on cannabis by Dec. 22.
Blaine Pedersen, minister of growth, enterprise, and trade, announced Nov. 28 that municipalities must decide if they will allow marijuana sales by the December deadline.
“It’s tight timelines and we sort of apologize for that, but at the same time it’s the federal government that’s pushing this. We have to have this ready for July 2, so we don’t have any alternative on this,” Pedersen said, adding that the timeline also takes the issue off the board for any municipal elections next year.
The federal government will legalize marijuana as of July 1, 2018, while the province has said stores in Manitoba will open July 2.
The announcement, made during the Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention in Brandon, set local governments on their heels and several have since raised concern that they will be making a decision without key information from the province. At the time, the provincial government had yet to release minimum age requirements and prices, while many municipalities have raised the issue of cost sharing and what that structure will look like. Since then, the Manitoba government has announced (Dec. 5) that the minimum age requirement will be 19 years old.
Other issues, like zoning or buffer zones (required distance being an often cited example), have been handed over to municipalities.
Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest was one of many concerned about the deadline. Most councils will have only one meeting between now and then, he pointed out.
The City of Winkler added its concerns after the announcement. Winkler Mayor Martin Harder previously criticized the province for passing cannabis regulation over to municipalities.
“We have so many unanswered questions as far as the distribution, the bylaws that we have to create, and right now we have a Dec. 22 deadline as far as giving our indications of what we want to see, which is less than a month away,” Winkler Councillor Don Fehr said.
A zoning guide is in the works for municipalities, local governments were told during the convention Nov. 28.
The guide will go out “as soon as possible,” attendees heard and the AMM will be used to distribute the draft.
Municipalities are also looking for details on how to handle cannabis revenue and cost.
A federal framework introduced in November would see marijuana taxed $1 per gram or 10 per cent of the cost, with revenue split between provincial and federal governments.
That plan does not sit well with municipalities, that argue that the bulk of day-to-day costs from legalization will fall on them while they are shut out of promised tax revenue.
“It’s very disappointing and frustrating to see that the whole legalization hasn’t been thought of as far as all the implications that can come from all the different aspects from policing and even as far as taxes,” Fehr said.
Municipalities say they’re also waiting on word about whether they will get support from the province for extra policing costs and programming.
“We are trying to determine what the costs are of this ourselves as a province,” Pedersen said. “We’re dealing with the same issues that the municipalities are in terms of jurisdiction and costs in terms of policing costs, in terms of health costs, enforcement.”
Michael Legary, who represented Manitoba Finance’s priorities and planning secretariat Nov. 28 in Brandon, acknowledged municipal concerns, saying that the provincial-federal split is “not desirable.”
The province is still consulting on how to handle legalization costs, he said.
Numbers on financial benefits are, likewise, up in the air, Legary said.
“From a modelling point of view, there’s retail economic spinoffs for each municipality,” he said. “There is the federal licensed producer regime; there’s a number of agriculture rural opportunities that are going to be created and then the development of product, the edibles, the oils, things that are 18-24 months out.”
Legary says the province will be revisiting its cannabis framework in the next 60-75 days.
The province is also asking potential pot retailers to submit business plans by Dec. 22. Pedersen says many of the unknowns municipalities are concerned by will be filled in once those applications are reviewed.
The province announced its “hybrid” marijuana strategy in early November, slotting itself in as a distributor to private retailers.
Under the plan, the Manitoba Liquor and Gaming Authority will regulate marijuana sales, storage, distribution and retail while Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries will handle supply. Legary says Liquor and Gaming Authority regulations should be in place by the end of January 2018.
The province argues that municipalities have greater control under its model, while critics have accused the province of off-loading the issue onto local governments.
“We’re asking,” Pedersen said. “We’re reaching out to them. We want to make sure that the municipalities want to have this because it is, ultimately, in their jurisdiction.”
Pedersen says no municipalities have outright denied legal cannabis sales.
Fehr, however, says more information is needed on distribution and testing for those over the legal limit of marijuana while driving and took exception with regulations that do not preclude someone with a record for illegal marijuana to apply as a retailer.
Other municipalities have been more open to legal pot. Ed Rempel of the Municipality of Macdonald tagged legal cannabis as an economic opportunity.
The Municipality of Macdonald councillor asked the province to hone in on Manitoba-grown cannabis to keep any economic benefits flowing back into the local economy.
That will be a “key element” of the province’s plan, Legary responded Nov. 28.
Two licensed suppliers currently operate in Manitoba and another seven are in the queue to become licensed, Legary said.
The province hopes to have 90 per cent of Manitobans within half an hour of a legal marijuana retailer within two years of legalization, a bar that would require 35-45 stores, assuming all municipalities buy in.
The province also says it hopes to have a stable and open market within three years and displace 50 per cent of the illegal marijuana market within two years.