Jasper pitches relaxed rules for cannabis retailers

Jasper’s municipal council says it won’t put any limits on the number of cannabis retailers allowed within the mountain resort community.

Council voted Tuesday to make a series of recommendations on commercial regulation.

Under the proposed bylaws, pot stores would be allowed to operate until midnight, and there would be no limit on the number of stores in town, or how close pot retailers can be to each other within the commercial district.

“We’re not in the business of passing moral judgment,” Mayor Richard Ireland said in an interview.

“We’ve never restricted any other business before, so why would we suddenly restrict this one?

“We will see what the market will support. Everybody should have a fair chance at engaging in that market if they choose.”

Councillors also voted to apply for an exemption to federal law and provincial laws which require a 100-metre buffer zone around cannabis retail shops, schools and hospitals.

The bylaws will be submitted to Parks Canada officials, who will have the final say on where and when cannabis can be sold.

That’s because Jasper, 365 kilometres west of Edmonton, is within Jasper National Park. Governance is shared between the municipality and Parks Canada.

Mayor Richard Ireland says strict regulations over retail cannabis stores in Jasper don’t make sense for the municipality. (Town of Jasper)

Strict cannabis retail regulations don’t make sense for Jasper, Ireland said.

The town has very limited retail space and council has no interest in over-regulating it, he said.

“In Jasper, [the buffer zones] would unfairly impact one small section of the downtown district and it didn’t seem reasonable that those people be excluded if others weren’t,” Ireland said.

“There are opportunities to say, ‘It can only be here or there’ as other communities do, but I think our council saw benefit in creating as level of a playing field as possible.”

Councillor Paul Butler noted that the current dispensary for medical marijuana is the post office, which is closer to the schools than any of the businesses in the commercial district.

“Jasper has a really small commercial zone. It’s four blocks really,” Butler said Thursday.  “We didn’t see any useful purpose being served there. We don’t think, and there is no evidence so far, that we’re are going to be inundated with a high number of commercial applications.” 

The proposed regulations were adopted through a series of six resolutions during council’s regular public meeting on Tuesday.

One councillor, Jenna McGrath, recused herself from the vote because she has an active application with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to be a cannabis retailer.

A cannabis working group made up of parks staff, town employees, bylaw officers and RCMP, tourism and health representatives submitted the recommendations to council.

Like many municipalities in Alberta, we’re not really happy to be facing some of these questions.-Paul Butler

As Jasper defines its own policies on cannabis, it’s important they strike the right balance, Butler said. 

The town has yet to vote on regulations on where and when cannabis can be consumed within town limits. Council will discuss that next Tuesday.

Butler expects more debate on the consumption issue. Enforcing any new regulations could put a strain on town resources, he said. 

“Like many municipalities in Alberta, we’re not really happy to be facing some of these questions,” Butler said. 

“We’re not thrilled with the prospect of possibly having to control consumption in our community when we really don’t have the resources to do that, and haven’t been shown any signs that we’re going to be given the resources to do that.”

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