The cannabis zoning debate takes over city hall like a weed

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

Wouldn’t you know it. The week I had to miss a city council meeting, SaskPower coincidentally schedules a power outage for 9:30 p.m., putting a hard deadline on when the agenda had to wrap. I watched the video after the fact and it was nice to see council speed their way through all their debates. It was so brisk. And yet, their hustle didn’t seem to impact the quality of their decision-making. [1] Funny that.

As for why the scheduled power outage? Can’t say. Maintenance of some kind? And I’m sure absolutely no master criminals used that downtime to circumvent the time locks on the gold vaults under City Square Plaza.

You didn’t know there were gold vaults under City Square Plaza? Well, let’s just say, there were and leave it at that, so I can get back to maintaining my cover… I mean, “covering city hall.”

Do Not Intrude On The Pot Zone

Ah, I remember the marijuana legalization hippies when I was in university. They’d go on about how we needed to legalize hemp production because it’s environmentally friendly and can be used to make so much useful stuff. Then someone would call them on how their activism had nothing to do with environmentally sourced hemp paper and everything to do with smoking pot in the quad. And they’d come back with, “Aw, we just gotta legalize it, man. It’d be so easy!


Here we are, the proposed legalization deadline just weeks away and, thanks to the provincial government’s foot-dragging on the issue, we’re just having the debate at council over how to handle zoning for cannabis retailers.

It’s almost like Saskatchewan is last-minute cramming to get their final project done because they maybe spent too much time smoking pot on the quad.

But the zoning discussion is done. [4]

Here’s where we are: to start with, cannabis stores will be allowed in Designated Shopping Centre and Major Arterial Commercial zones; these are located along main city corridors, at major intersections and include most of the larger shopping centres. This is similar to how liquor stores are handled and attempts to keep pot sales in commercial areas where people can access them easily.

Where cannabis stores start to depart from the liquor store model is in the Downtown zone. City administration originally recommended that cannabis stores be an allowed use downtown but Regina Planning Commission changed it so that it would be discretionary use. This means that any pot shops that want to open in the city’s central shopping area have to pay the discretionary-use process fee of $2,500, wait four months for the process to play out and ultimately defend their proposal before city council.

Regina Downtown Business Improvement District was on hand to argue that this put the downtown at a disadvantage versus neighbourhoods where no such requirement was in place but council opted to leave the provision in place.

Next up, the cannabis retail zoning bylaw imposes buffer zones around pot shops. To keep them from glomming together like a gang of stoners at the back of the Mac’s store near a high school, cannabis retailers won’t be able to open within 182.88 metres [5] of each other.

That 183-metre buffer also applies to schools, parks, day care centres, enclosed rinks, public libraries, and public community centres. According to administration, the goal here is to keep pot shops at least a block away from facilities that are primarily used by the youths. And, just to complicate matters, because downtown is dominated by Victoria and Central parks but is also supposed to be the city’s main commercial district, the minimum distance rule for parks and rinks and libraries won’t apply there. But the buffer zone between pot shops will.

See? Easy!

In the end, council had a vigorous debate on the topic even though, by multiple councillors’ admission, there had been virtually no calls or e-mails protesting administration’s original recommendations on cannabis retail zoning.

Mayor Michael Fougere did wrap up his comments by raising an alarm about how rushed the whole legalization process has been for municipalities.

“We’ll be ready. But I think there’s an element of the city writ large that is not ready and that’s Regina Police Service,” said Fougere who then pointed out how the federal government has yet to indicate what device they will allow police to use to test for cannabis intoxication.

“We’re doing the work we’ve got to do as expeditiously as possible. But there’s still another element out there of concern and that rests primarily with the federal government with an artificial deadline — until further notice publicly anyway — to have July 1 legalization.

“They’re saying that date but legislation is not past the House or Senate yet. So, there are some elements that are lagging because the federal government has moved forward too quickly and have not allowed local governments and police services to prepare for this properly.”


[1] ^ And yet, despite the time pressure, they still managed to fit in like a half hour going around in circles over the term “legally nonconforming.” Apparently, some on council found the phrase baffling. Look, it’s simple: you have a rule that says you can’t open a pot shop within 100 metre of a daycare. So you open your pot shop a parsec away from the nearest daycare. Then somebody says, “Hey, that neighbourhood on the edge of the galaxy with a pot shop could really use a daycare.” And the law says daycares are an allowed-use on the edges of galaxies so they open the daycare 50 metres from your pot shop. That means your pot shop is too close to a daycare. But those buffer zones in the pot shop bylaw only kick in when you open your pot shop. Nobody’s going to ask you to move because it’s legal for the pot shop to stay there even though it doesn’t conform to the bylaw. See? “Legally nonconforming.” Congrats. You just grokked that in a couple minutes. [2]

[2] ^ But if you’re all, “Oh my god! Now the maniacs are going to open daycares next to pot shops! The children will confuse their nucky-nuckies for doobies, and then we’ll have toddlers toking on spliffs in the sandbox!”, don’t panic. Councillor Lori Bresciani passed a motion imposing a reciprocal prohibition on pot shop buffer zones. That means, toss out everything you learned last footnote about “legally nonconforming” because now you also can’t open a new daycare or school or park or whatever within 183 metres of a pot shop. Phew. Children = saved! [3]

[3] ^ Fun fact: while we’ve imposed these buffer zones on pot shops, no such buffer zones exist for liquor stores. Which explains why your toddler comes home blotto on Smirnoff Beach Bellinis every afternoon. Seriously, little daycare punks still think icing is hilarious. Boo! Children = not saved!

[4] ^ Though we’re going to have to wait until the end of June for the actual bylaw. Council amended administration’s recommendations to the point where city staff have to sit down with all their scribbled notes and make sure they have everything straight before they write it up officially.

[5] ^ That’s equal to 600 feet or, roughly, one city block.