BANFF – Some Banff businesses don’t want to see a lottery system for processing applications for pot retail stores once recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada on Oct. 17.
At a public hearing on Monday (Aug. 20) to get feedback on a bylaw dealing with pot retail in Banff, local politicians were also asked to scrap a proposal requiring pot stores be located 100 metres apart from each other.
Officials say the intent of the spatial separation proposal is to prevent a clustering of cannabis stores – a so-called Green Mile – to protect the look and feel of the national park tourist town.
But Gordon Lozeman, president and CEO of Banff Caribou Properties, said the downtown district is too small for a regulated separation distance between competitors, adding there is no such requirement for any other uses, including liquor stores.
“There should be no separation distance between operators so that we avoid the scenario where the Town needs a lottery process to arbitrarily pick winners and losers amongst its applicants,” wrote Lozeman in a letter submitted for the public hearing.
“We want an environment where good operators are granted licenses and succeed based on merit, not one where we end up protecting certain operators because they were the first ones drawn or selected.”
In anticipation of receiving a run on applications for cannabis stores based on inquiries so far, the Town of Banff has been considering a fair system to process applications for retailers wanting to open cannabis stores.
Dave Michaels, development planner for the Town of Banff, said no decisions have been made on recommendations to council for this.
“Obviously, the separation distance is the one that, if we receive multiple applications, there’s potential for this conflict,” said Michaels.
“We have to make sure it’s a fair application process, and so typically that could be either first come, first serve or it could be a lottery process and, until we know 100 per cent what the bylaw is going to look like, it’s hard to determine that.”
Officials with Compass Cannabis Clinic on Bear Street say they support the proposed bylaw, but want to see a merit-based system instead of a lottery amid fears a licence or permit could be sold to the highest bidder.
Compass vice-president Graeme Hawkings said Banff risks losing control over both the quality of the applicant, as well as the service experience for residents and tourists alike.
“Several communities have done a lottery-based system and we’ve seen fairly unintended, but negative consequences from that, particularly in regard to increased monetization of that licence,” he said.
Along with provincial regulations requiring a separation of 100 metres of a cannabis retail store from a school or health care facility, the municipal bylaw proposes a 100-metre distance from a daycare or playground as an additional requirement.
The bylaw also calls for 100 metres between each cannabis retail store.
In addition, cannabis stores would not be permitted on street level facing the sidewalk. Basements and second storey locations would be OK, as would street level sites with no windows such as within malls.
Stavros Karlos, a local businessman, urged council to reconsider the municipal separation proposals, in particular the 100-metre spatial separation between cannabis stores, for greater flexibility and regulatory fairness.
He said since storefront cannabis retails stores are to be restricted from being visible on public right of ways and sidewalks, there is no likelihood of a wall of cannabis stalls along any of the streets in the CD district.
“The RCMP have stated they are concerned about ensuring we have enough retailers in Banff to satisfy the market need,” said Karlos, noting spatial separation proposals could lead to as few as two or three cannabis stores.
“Part of the overriding desire of the federal government to enact this legislation was to ensure the criminal element is driven out of the marijuana market. It would be a shame that, through a lack of access in Banff, that it happened to allow for those opportunities.”
The bylaw is back to council for debate on Sept. 10.