Piercing the haze around local cannabis retail in Manitoba

Municipalities are sweating the details 
as cannabis legalization looms and information 
continues to trickle in from the province

Municipalities are getting some guidance on legal cannabis.

Both the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Manitoba Municipal Relations have released guides on zoning, bylaws, and other details in the hopes of easing the transition when cannabis becomes legal this July.

Municipalities are still working on the new slate of regulations, while also waiting for the provincial and federal governments to finalize details like roadside sobriety test options.

Retail systems, distribution, and age limits, may come down from the upper levels of government, but zoning and land use planning are expected to fall heavily on municipalities. Along with those, the province expects some aspects of retail location choice and any local rules on public consumption to also be a municipal responsibility.

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FCM has stated that municipalities are, “likely to be most active in the areas of zoning, business licensing, building code, municipal workplace safety and enforcement of regulations around public consumption and impaired driving.”

The Manitoba Municipal Relations guide suggests that municipalities looking to control cannabis might keep retailers out of a portion of the municipality, such as a tourism district, or put buffers around schools, daycares, residential zones and public recreation areas. Hours of operation, parking and signage might also find their way in front of a local council.

“However, given that retail outlets in 15 to 20 of the 137 municipalities could service 90 per cent of the provincial population, municipalities may want to wait until they get an actual retail proposal before determining how they choose to amend their zoning bylaw,” the guide reads.

The province hopes to have 90 per cent of Manitobans within a half-hour drive of a legal cannabis retailer within two years, something they hope will subvert half of the black market in the same time frame, according to provincial spokesperson Michael Legary.

Legary gave an update on cannabis policy during an Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) seminar in Brandon April 11-12.

“Accessibility is key to making sure that black market doesn’t have inappropriate access over a certain number of communities and a key element of that is making sure that physical retail store deployments happen in a balanced way across the province to access our population,” he said.

Likewise, the guide points out that municipalities may simply align cannabis retail sites with their existing commercial zones, something that would require no additional hearings or changes, or set up a system where each retailer must apply for a conditional use order or set up in a newly determined zone specific to cannabis.

Vote before ban

Municipalities must set up a plebiscite, or a public vote on cannabis, before January 1, 2022, if they want to close their doors to pot.

“Essentially, it’s been handed over,” Legary said. “Cannabis is coming. That was given from the federal government; it sort of filters down; if we don’t want it, plebiscite is the key tool to choose that local option. If you don’t run that local option, you cannot zone cannabis entirely out of your community. You can restrict it, but without running the plebiscite you don’t have the option to remove that.”

Municipalities have also complained that it may not be a convenient time to wrestle with the long list of zoning and bylaw changes before legalization comes into effect.

The province is in discussion with AMM to see if cannabis can be handled similar to liquor, where a group within Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries assesses a potential store location and gives a recommendation on whether that location is appropriate.

“There’s community feedback in that process,” Legary said. “What we’ll be discussing in the next month with AMM is how can we provide that as an option if municipalities choose.”

There will eventually be demand for both indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis, he said, although the federal government is purposefully restricting demand.

The province expects the currently slow application process to speed up to a three-month turnaround within the next one to two years.

The province has given four companies conditional approval to sell cannabis, it was announced in February. The province has capped cannabis retail sites in Winnipeg at 16 (four sites per company). Rural locations have also been assessed, Legary said.

“The feedback from last session about which municipalities, conceptually, are looking forward to cannabis, are wanting to move forward with it, versus folks who want to run the plebiscite and don’t want cannabis retail opportunities in their municipalities; we’ve received that feedback, gone through the initial assessment and have been reviewing with AMM the different kinds of implementation options we’re going to have to deal with at the municipal level,” he said, adding that online sales will further muddy the waters.

The four approved companies have also been approved for online sales, available even in municipalities that have decided against cannabis retailers.

Municipalities were also warned to expect another round of bylaws and business proposals in the next one to two years when edibles and infused products join the list of legal cannabis items for sale.

“Certainly there was a lot of new information that was provided today,” AMM president Chris Goertzen said after the Brandon event. “It was long overdue and municipalities welcome that new information. It does bring about additional questions though when it comes to how this will be rolled out in the coming months and years, but I think we welcome some clarity that the government has provided today.”

Municipalities are waiting for more information on policing and roadside sobriety test options in the next three months.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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