Cannabis Zoning Comes with a Few Hiccups

Robert Thomas

If anyone has any objections to or wants to add to the proposed cannabis zoning bylaw the time to do so is now.

Under the proposed bylaw retailers will be allowed to set up shop in the majority of the downtown core so long as they abide by applicable legislation.

Already the issue of no buffer zone around a well known youth centre, Joe's Place, has come up at Executive Committee with the youth centre writing a letter to the City expressing concerns and requesting reconsideration.

It's unknown how many regular youth groups operate in the downtown core.

Despite Executive Committee already voting 6-1 against an amendment which would have created a buffer zone around Joe's Place, (Mayor Frasier Tolmie was in favour) Director of Planning Michelle Sanson said a buffer is still possible. Changes elsewhere for other groups or concerns is still possible anytime prior to the bylaw's adoption.

"At this time, the motion was to move to Bylaw as approved by Executive Committee. A buffer zone around Joe’s Place was discussed at the meeting, but was defeated.  Council could table during Bylaw Reading and request further information or amendment," Sanson wrote, adding "Depending on any feedback received during the advertising period, Council may choose to make amendments to the proposed regulations."

The City Administration wrote their report and recommendations using resources from other cities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) with no assistance from senior levels of government.

"No, other than outline municipal responsibilities and providing information on legislation," Sanson wrote in an email response regarding whether or not the Federal or Provincial Government had provided guidance or assistance in drafting any zoning regulations.

A main resource guide the City used was the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Guide to Cannabis Legalization and Zoning for Cannabis: A Guide for Manitoba Municipalities. The City also made use of various recommendations from other centres.


The Manitoba report illustrates that zoning and retailer location is a joint provincial and municipal responsibility and called for public consultation when drafting any zoning requirements.

Regarding the Federal governments goal to prevent underage youth 12-17 years of age (the number two user group) from accessing cannabis and the 18-24 year old group (the number one user group) to hopefully control use Sanson wrote "Within municipal jurisdiction, our only method to regulate is through land use controls such as zoning and separation distances."

Asked about how difficult it was to draft recommendations to formulate she wrote "We did our best to manage both sides fairly. One challenge is the relatively small size of our commercial areas which means large separation distances may be too restrictive."

Regarding the potential of tourists smoking cannabis on the street or in Crescent Park due to the two major downtown hotels - Temple Gardens Mineral Spa and the Grant Hall Hotel - being non-smoking she replied that would be illegal.

The reason for the buffer zone around Crescent Park was to protect youth.

"The objective of separation distances was to keep retailers out of proximity of places where youth might gather," Sanson wrote.

Dr Jason Childs is an associate professor of Economics at the University of Regina. He is a co-author of a November 2017 report into legalization and achieving the three goals of legalization.
Those goals are: displacing the criminals profiting off of the illicit market, keeping cannabis away from underage youth and insuring cannabis users are provided with a safe supply.

The report recommended providing cannabis retailer-free buffers around places where youth gather. It specifically recommends youth centres should have a buffer zone around them.

"Recommendation 33: Municipalities should develop zoning bylaws to limit the density of licensed retail outlets and their proximity of retail outlets to schools and youth centres," the report recommended.



"Typically, we're talking about any place where youth regularly congregate in numbers. 

Examples often include schools, daycares, youth centres, etc.  Churches would be an interesting specific consideration.  If the church had an active youth program focused on the facility I think it would make sense to include it too," Dr Childs wrote MJ Independent when asked to clarify what types of youth centres the report was referring to.

Asked for recommended distances from youth centres, he replied it would be case specific.

"The specific distance is context dependent.  It should ideally depend on the movement patterns and "range" of youth in the area.  In a denser urban environment (like say downtown Toronto) a block or two would probably be sufficient.  In less dense environments, I would think a larger distance (three or four blocks) would likely make more sense.  It also would depend on the layout of the area in question.  For example, a retail outlet one block from a school, as the crow flies, but with no direct walking route (say due to a fenced rail yard or river) likely wouldn't be as large a concern.  What really matters is the "effective" distance, not the simple geographic distance.  Of course, things get more complicated in commercial areas," he wrote.

Close proximity to a retailer can influence earlier use of cannabis he wrote.

"The evidence is context specific, but the data from other jurisdictions is that proximity influences the timing of first use.  The closer an outlet is to youth (typically residence but the current thinking extends this points of congregation as well) the earlier - on average - they start using the product.  This tends to apply to alcohol and cannabis both.  Keep in mind the data on alcohol is highly social context dependent.  Early use is less consistent with later abuse in European countries like France or Germany (for the most part).  This may be due how alcohol is used by adults the youth observe.

TL; DR - Proximity of outlets is related the age of first use - closer = earlier."

One proviso he did add was that at the present time most youth who want access to cannabis already have it.

"It is important to remember that in almost all cases, youth already have ready access to cannabis - including at schools.  Legalization is not going mean a sudden increase in availability to youth,  The vast majority of youth who want to consume cannabis are already doing so.  There will likely be marginal effects (but like most marginal effects they will be small)."

Dr Dirk J Korf is a researcher with the University of Amsterdam who has extensively studied the effects of that city's famous cannabis coffee shops. Dr Korf made his research available to MJ Independent for this article.

Research in Amsterdam has shown the closer geographically underage youth live to a coffee shop the higher probability they will use cannabis. The further away from the coffee shop they live the lower the rates are of underage cannabis use. Once someone hits age 24 and they are a non-user the likelihood of their using cannabis is virtually eliminated.

At the present time Amsterdam has expanded its buffer zones around schools to 350 metres because of these and other studies combined with political pressure. Moose Jaw is proposing a 166 metre buffer around schools.

It needs to be noted that Amsterdam's coffee shop legalization and studies pre-date any from the United States and are much more cross cultural in nature.

Councillor Brian Swanson said he agreed with the route taken by the City.

"I think we've done the right thing just like other cities," Coun Swanson said, adding "I don't have any problem on that I support what other cities have done."

Asked if there was a potential for changing direction if there are concerns raised from the community he said "we'll have to see how it goes out."

Mayor Fraiser Tolmie's office declined comment on the issue.

Ira Dales is a member of a local group who won the right to establish one of the two initial retail outlets and he said although they are looking at a downtown location they are "definitely not setting up shop next door to Joe's Place."

Dales said he understood and echoed the concerns of not allowing youth access to cannabis.
A main emphasis the shop will be following is "to keep it out of the hands of youth."

None of the product will be viewable, advertising will not be tailored to youth and they will be IDing at the door as well.

"We're going to make sure we stick to the main points and keep it out of the hands of youth and used responsibly," Dales said.

The proposed location was selected based upon the proposed bylaw and economic indicators, he said. It needs to be noted in order to displace and eliminate the illicit market the success of the government regulated industry is necessary.

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