Q & A: Cannabis retail, zoning

As summer approaches, so does the expected legalization by the federal government of recreational use of cannabis. Preparation, education, consultation and the amendment of bylaws that will be affected by federal legalization continue to be priorities for the City of Edmonton.

This past month, City Councillors have met to discuss various aspects of legalization. The public has also had the opportunity to speak in front of Council on May 7 and at the Urban Planning Committee on May 22 to discuss the proposed zoning bylaw amendments.

To keep the air as clear as possible from misconceptions and inaccuracies, we wanted to share some answers to zoning and retail questions and concerns we are getting. Other questions, including those around public consumption, will be discussed by City Council in June.

What is the status of the Zoning bylaw amendments in the City?

Cannabis retail stores can be located only in approved zones within the City of Edmonton.  These include: CSC, CB1, CB2, CHY, CO, CB3, IB, CCA, CMU, HA, JAMSC, UW and AED.  

The proposed zoning bylaw amendments went to Public Hearing and received first and second reading at City Council on May 7, 2018.  These amendments include the following separation distances for cannabis retail stores:

  • 200 meters between cannabis retail stores
  • 200 meters from schools, playgrounds and libraries
  • 100 meters from parks and recreation centers

Third reading (which will put the bylaw into force) is scheduled for June 12, 2018.  This is after the Senate vote on federal cannabis legislation scheduled for June 7. Until third reading and the passage of Federal legislation, the zoning bylaw amendments are not in force.  More details on the zoning bylaw amendments, including the specific zones that have been proposed to allow cannabis retail stores, can be found on the City’s website.  A zoning map for the City can be found at: maps.edmonton.ca

Is the City limiting the number of retail applications?

No.  There is no limit on the number of applications that can be made. However, the City of Edmonton is proposing that initially only one application may be made per proposed retail location.

The limiting factors are the separation distances and the zones that permit cannabis retail sales that are included in the zoning bylaw amendment.  

The Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission (AGLC) has indicated they believe they will approve 250 licenses in Alberta in 2018.  We note that Calgary alone had received 226 applications by April 30, 2018.

How is the City proposing to accept applications for cannabis retail licenses?

The City of Edmonton will utilize a random selection process as a fair and transparent way to determine the order in which the City will accept and review  the initial group of applications.

This process will have prospective applicants submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) to the City. These EOIs will include the proposed location for the retail store and confirmation from the landlord that the cannabis retail store use is acceptable. Once the EOIs have been received, a random selection process (conducted by an independent accounting firm) will assign an order for application intake and review. The process will assign a day and time for applicants to  meet with a development officer and submit a development permit application. Payment of the development permit will be required at this time.  An application for a business licence may also be made at this time.

The EOI is NOT an approval for the location. The process is intended to allow every applicant an equal chance of submitting an application for review and is intended to create an organized process for application intake.  EOIs will be accepted from May 28, 2018 to June 13, 2018.

Why did the City not recommend a first-come, first-served method for retail applications?

One consideration was that larger companies could be in a position to commit to multiple locations at once. The first-come, first-served process could allow a larger company to submit multiple (say 15 or 20) applications all at once, potentially eliminating the opportunity for other smaller stores to open in nearby locations.   

The random selection process would still allow for larger companies to submit all their applications.  However, each EOI, whether from an individual entrepreneur or a large company, would now have an equal chance to be randomly selected to be chosen first in the order for application submission and review.  

The random selection process pre-schedules all applicants with a specific appointment date and time, thereby removing the competitive nature of arriving first to submit an application.

Are the City permits and licence approvals dependent on obtaining an Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) licence?

No. The Province and the City are two separate entities. The AGLC approval process includes detailed background checks and the City will not duplicate the requirement.  While the City is in contact with the AGLC to help ensure coordination, the City has no input on the AGLC approval process. Retail stores need approval from both authorities to operate.  

AGLC has indicated that it will not issue a cannabis store licence until an applicant has obtained all necessary municipal approvals.

The City of Calgary has also indicated that AGLC approval is not required for a City development permit to be issued.

What are the permitting and license costs to open a cannabis retail store?

The permits and licence fees for the City of Edmonton are the following:

Development Permit fee – $5,600.00 (one-time fee)
Business Licence fee – $2,500.00 (annual fee)

In addition to these fees, building permit fees are based on the City’s standard schedules that vary based on the value of the permit.  For a complete list of fees, please the City of Edmonton fee listing website.

How are the Direct Control and Special Area zones considered?

The Zoning Bylaw changes debated on May 7th, 2018, by City Council affects sites zoned with conventional zoning and the Downtown Special Area Zones.

Like all zoning, Direct Control zoning and Special Area zoning is applied to parcels of land by City Council after a Land Use Public Hearing. However, Direct Control zoning and Special Area zoning is usually more prescriptive and is more site specific than conventional zoning. Given the site specific context of direct control and special area zoning, rezoning applications for such sites are usually applicant-driven.

Currently, Cannabis Retail Sales are not proposed to be permitted in any Direct Control zone or Special Area, with some exceptions (see below).

How can Cannabis Retail Sales be added to a Direct Control or a Special Area Zone?

Property owners with sites in a Direct Control or Special Area Zone can submit a rezoning application to the City to add the Cannabis Retail Sales use to the zone governing their property. This application will be subject to the standard public notification and technical review process with the final decision being made by City Council after completing a land use public hearing.

There are a number of applicant-initiated Direct Control and Special Area rezonings currently under review to add Cannabis Retail Sales use to these zones. At present, the only Administration- initiated Direct Control zone that is being changed is the Old Strathcona Historical Commercial Direct Control Provision. Administration determined it would go through a City-led rezoning in March 2018 and this rezoning is anticipated to be at Public Hearing on June 11, 2018.  This Direct Control is being changed as numerous inquiries were received in this area creating the potential for a conflicting application scenario and there is Business Improvement Association’s support for the change.

To contact the City, please email us at:  cannabislegalization@edmonton.ca