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City to begin accepting cannabis retail applications Tuesday

Potential retailers now know for sure how the City of Grande Prairie will handle retail cannabis, for the first year at least.

A number of delegations took time to speak to council ahead of debating the proposed bylaw changes. Those proposed changes will impact four different bylaws including the Land Use Bylaw and the Business License Bylaw.

At the first meeting in May it was expected that bylaws would pass and the city would be able to begin accepting applications for their planned lottery the following day. That didn’t happen but there were some changes made to the city’s approach to legal weed in Grande Prairie.

Plans for an overlay map that would outline the approved areas were scrapped opening most commercial areas to cannabis stores. There was also a proposed buffer between liquor stores and pot shops that was done away with as well.

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At Monday’s meeting Councillor Clyde Blackburn, who has been a vocal critic of the plan to legalize marijuana in general, declared prior to all discussion and debate that he was “done playing the game.” He said he would be voting against all bylaws.

Many of the delegations raised concerns about the plan to limit the number of business licenses to just 10 for the first year with up to two licenses per corporate entity. Councillor Jackie Clayton made an impassioned plea to do away with the cap all together.

“We’re not having a true look at what the opportunities are and it’s not government’s business to dictate success or failure of a business.”

Mayor Bill Given says he feels like government does have a stake in the game when public health and safety could be impacted. Councillor Dylan Bressey also agrees the concerns about substance abuse in our community are valid.

“The real issues underlying it isn’t the availability of certain substances. I think it’s lack of connection in our community, I think it’s social systems that need to be strengthened and I hope that as we’re having this conversation we’re not just talking about how do we regulate cannabis.”

After a few rounds of voting council was able to agree on a limit of 15 licenses for the first year with a maximum of one per corporate entity. Councillors Friesen, Clayton and Bressey were all hoping for a more free market approach. Business hours were initially proposed to be limited to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. but council approved operating hours of 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Councillor Eunice Friesen says she feel like they were able to come to up with a balanced solution.

“I think we landed on some really good middle ground that is a reasonable start for this legislation, this bylaw, in Grande Prairie.”

Council has said they will examine the bylaws after one year to ensure they are serving their purpose.

The city will start accepting applications Tuesday morning. The intake period will be three weeks long and will wrap up July 9, 2018. While an exact plan for the lottery draw has not been released the city has said it will be “transparent.”

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