Marijuana businesses should pay higher city fees, Edmonton councillor says

Marijuana businesses should pay higher city fees, Edmonton councillor says

Businesses that hope to sell legal marijuana in Edmonton should expect to pay higher city fees, Coun. Dave Loken said Tuesday.

"We're going to be stuck with a lot of the enforcement," Loken said as council's executive committee discussed a report from administration designed to help the city prepare for the coming legalization of marijuana.

The federal Liberal government has pledged to legalize and regulate marijuana during its current term in office.

"The more they define the rules as we get closer to legalization, the clearer the impacts will be on municipalities," Mayor Don Iveson said.

​"They'll raise all the tax revenue from this new taxable substance and once again municipalities will have to do all the hard work."

Councillors discussed potential costs to the city for policing and bylaw enforcement, along with ways to recover that money.

Higher policing costs may be recoverable

Iveson noted that if cities can demonstrate that marijuana dispensaries will result in more policing costs, some of the cost can be recovered in a higher business tax for those types of businesses.

Councillors discussed the price of development permits and other fees for new businesses selling marijuana. In Vancouver, for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries currently pay annual licensing fees of $30,000.

Loken said a steep price for setting up shop is something he'd like to see, to help the city pay for increased policing.

Coun. Mike Nickel first raised concerns about how the city would deal with the legal changes in November. Staff were directed to answer questions about how the city can be proactive in dealing with the expected change to federal laws.

The report outlines a number of changes to business licences and policies, including modifications to the zoning bylaw to regulate where marijuana stores and lounges will be allowed to operate.

Nickel said legalization will present a lot of complicated issues.

"It's not as straightforward as rolling a joint and being concerned about people smoking marijuana on the street," he said.

"There's a lot of complex products that can go into this and if they're going to legalize it, we're going to have to deal with the effects.

"That goes from enforcement to zoning to second-hand smoke issues to occupational health and safety. At least we're in front of it, not behind it like some other jurisdictions."

Nickel said he wants to see the federal and provincial governments come up with funding help for the city to pay those costs.

"They can't just download another one on us and us pick up the tab," he said.

Legalizing marijuana isn't going to be a free-for-all for anyone who wants to start selling pot, he added.

"We're going to send out some very clear signals that, 'No, this is not going to be a green bonanza.' We're going to try and do this responsibly the first time out."

Tobacco smoke rules should apply

Les Hagen with the group Action on Smoking and Health told councillors the city should treat marijuana smoke the same way it currently deals with tobacco.

"Tobacco is a far more harmful drug and kills far more Canadians than marijuana so any restrictions we're placing on marijuana sales and use, we should be placing similar restrictions on tobacco," Hagen said.

Iveson said the same rule that bans cigarette smoking inside buildings would have to apply to smoking marijuana.

Rules for where businesses selling marijuana products will be allowed to locate in Edmonton will be similar to what exists for liquor stores and body rub parlours, Iveson said.

A public hearing on proposed changes to the city's zoning bylaws for marijuana businesses will be held June 28.