by Phil Ambroziak

The City of Meadow Lake is ready to clear the air when it comes to where exactly a retail marijuana store will be able to set up shop.

During Monday’s (April 23) regular meeting of council, direction was given to city administration to come back to the table at a future meeting with a proposed resolution that restricts the location of the one retail cannabis outlet approved for Meadow Lake to the downtown core. Originally, a zoning amendment bylaw was on Monday’s agenda and, if approved, would have allowed the retail cannabis outlet to be established in the downtown (MU1) zone and, with discretion, in the highway commercial (C1) and urban commercial (C2) zones. This suggestion mirrored the zoning currently in place for alcohol sales – including a 200-metre buffer between like retailers – but mayor Gary Vidal had something else in mind.

“Personally, the way this (zoning bylaw) is presented, I cannot support it,” Vidal said. “I would rather, for now, create a permitted use in our MU1 zone – in our downtown core. My logic is, we can always expand but it’s a lot harder to bring it back later. We’re only one (cannabis outlet) right now, and I personally would like to keep it in the downtown core than out on the highway or somewhere else.”

Vidal went on to say, if more licences for cannabis shops are granted in the future, council can revisit the issue at that time.

“If we keep it in our downtown core, we don’t have to worry about buffers around recreational facilities, schools, parks or any of those places,” he added. “We know where it’s going to be.”

Deputy-mayor Merlin Seymour asked if allowing the shop to open downtown would be too close to the local library.

“There’s a second decision here – whether you want a buffer zone around the library or not, but in my opinion I would not even require one,” Vidal said. “The library is in a retail commercial zone.”

City manager Diana Burton agreed, stating a 10-year-old child, in any event, is not going to be able to walk into a retail cannabis store. Councillor Tom Harrison echoed this.

“I believe we’re over-thinking it,” he said. “The product will all be packaged – it’s not out in the open.”

Burton also said, administratively, it was determined it would be easiest to treat cannabis sales like alcohol sales.

“Currently, our zoning bylaw puts a 200-foot buffer around any establishments that sell alcohol meaning another such location cannot be established within that buffer zone,” she said. “Right now we only have one (cannabis permit) and we don’t have the records to determine why that was put in place for alcohol sales, so I question if that even makes sense for alcohol sales.”

Councillor Glen Winkler said he also questions this.

“We have places in town (pharmacies) that distribute drugs right across the street from each other,” he said.

Meanwhile, another area included in the initial zoning amendment bylaw proposal focused on marijuana production. The province is currently accepting applications for wholesale marijuana permits and licensed producer registrations, and although it’s still unknown if such a permit will be granted for Meadow Lake, Burton said it’s best to be ready for what could happen next.

“As it stands, if you don’t touch that aspect, marijuana production would be allowed in your industrial area because it would be classified as a greenhouse,” she noted.

According to Vidal, however, he has no issue with keeping the recommendation included in the zoning amendment bylaw as is in terms of production and cultivation.

Following the discussion, the proposed zoning amendment bylaw was taken off the table. Instead, an alternate motion was carried giving direction to administration to come back with a new proposal along the lines of Vidal’s suggestion – limiting the shop to the downtown core with no buffer zone. Council was also in agreement – if a permit for marijuana production and cultivation is granted for Meadow Lake – this would be allowed in the heavy industrial area and, again, with no buffer.

“I think the highway is enough of a buffer (between the industrial area and Lions Park),” stated councillor Conrad Read.