Bid to massively increase cannabis store locations is defeated in Red Deer

File photo by BLACK PRESS news services

Red Deer city council narrowly defeated a proposed bylaw to expand permitted locations for marijuana retailers.

Red Deer doesn’t need 60 cannabis retail outlets, say city councillors, who narrowly defeated a proposed bylaw that would have allowed marijuana to be sold in more locations.

Although no adverse impacts were reported of the six pot stores that have opened in the city so far, future cannabis retailers must still locate in the 35 locations that are now permitted either in the city centre or on major arterial routes.

Politicians opposed to widening the spread of cannabis sales (Mayor Tara Veer, councillors Vesna Higham, Tanya Handley, Lawrence Lee and Buck Buchanan) cited a variety of concerns.

These included fears about the stores locating too close to schools and limiting the diversity of other business opportunities in strip malls.

Since only six cannabis retail licences have so far been granted in Red Deer, and seven applicants are in the process, “35 locations have been ample,” said Lee.

He told council he regularly hears public complaints about too many liquor stores in Red Deer. Lee feels expanding to 60 cannabis retail sites, including regional and district shopping centres, mixed-use areas and two direct control districts, would be “overkill.”

Handley was among the councillors opposed to reducing the separation between pot stores and schools or day cares to 100 metres, as the bylaw proposed.

The city now requires a 300-metre separation. Although the province suggested 100 metres, Handley noted Alberta Health Services had recommended a 300- to 500-metre distance between cannabis stores and “sensitive” sites.

With marijuana sales legalized just two years ago, Higham felt it was too soon to make “sweeping” changes as the bylaw proposed.

“Marijuana sales are legal for consenting adults… It should not become more normalized than alcohol,” Higham added.

Councillors who favoured expanding possible store locations (Frank Wong, Dianne Wyntjes, Michael Dawe and Ken Johnston) were confident that after 14 months of monitoring, existing cannabis retailers were causing no loitering, littering or increased crime problems.

Wong suggested it backfires whenever the city restricts where certain kinds of business can locate: “People want to go to places where they can thrive, get their share of the market…”

Dawe noted, “This is no longer a moral issue. It’s an economic issue,” and Red Deer’s economy can use more businesses to help with its recovery.

Veer said a “clear divide” exists on council on this issue.

She believes it was difficult getting consensus on such a wide-ranging bylaw.

While the mayor could have supported a limited increase in locations, she sided with the bylaw’s opponents, saying she has also heard public concerns expressed about opening the city to more cannabis retailers.

The city will continue to work with applicants who can’t find an acceptable site. Requested site exceptions will be considered by the planning department, the municipal planning commission or city council.