City of Calgary faces hurdles before legalized pot arrives

The Green Room in Calgary, AB, 8 St SW
One of the medical marijuana dispensary The Green Room’s locations in Calgary.

Originally written October 2017.

In preparing for legalized marijuana, the City of Calgary faces many tough decisions for regulating cannabis-related businesses and managing public safety concerns versus benefits.

Under Parliament’s Bill C-45 passed this April, provinces and cities are responsible for licensing distribution and sale of marijuana, restricting where it can be consumed, and changing impaired driving laws.

Matt Zabloski, project lead for preparing the City of Calgary’s cannabis regulations, said that the federal government’s July 2018 target for legalization has not given the City very much time.

Zabloski said the biggest challenge has been coordinating between the municipal and provincial government.

While Calgary is following much of the Government of Alberta’s draft framework, one important unresolved issue is the status of retail stores.

“We have so little time, we have to prepare as if they will be privately run,” said Zabloski.

He said that this new legal industry could “create new jobs at a time we need it.”

However, Zabloski also said the city was moving more cautiously on other issues.

“One phrase I keep hearing [is] start low and go slow, from a usage and regulatory standpoint.”

Zabloski said that the issue of public consumption has surprised him.

He said that most jurisdictions have treated public consumption at least as strictly as alcohol.

However, Zabloski said the province has proposed “effectively treating it the same as tobacco”, to the point where people “can’t even see cannabis” in public places.

While he said the city was not expecting this from the province, it “also leaves the door open on our end to examine whether to restrict it” to the same extent.

Ken Uzeloc, deputy chief of risk management for the Calgary Fire Department, said that the city was “trying to limit public use as best we can.”

“We need to figure out a way to respect the law, but also try and make sure we focus on the safest method for the mass of people,” said Uzeloc.

“A lot of the work we’re doing in the city, we have to keep saying, forget your personal views, and focus on [your] professional views.”

Uzeloc said that one area of concern was cannabis-infused food, commonly known as edibles. He singled out hash oils, which he said can cause explosions or fires.

He said legalizing marijuana would increase edible usage as well, and that studies have shown 50 per cent of users prefer edibles to smoking.

Zabloski agreed that edibles would be difficult to regulate, and that the city was holding off on the issue for at least a year as a result.

Despite his public safety concerns, Uzeloc said some public benefits might come from legalization.

He said there should be a reduction in unsafe grow-ops, and that medical marijuana should become much cheaper and easier to get.

Frederick Pels, president and CEO of national dispensary chain The Green Room, had only positive things to say about the municipal process.

Pels said that Calgary was one of the “most prepared” cities for legalization he had seen in Canada.

“I can’t say that [the city] has been anything but cooperative with us,” he said.

“Calgary seems more prepared to make the necessary moves.”

The Green Room has two locations in Calgary and is planning to open a third by Christmas. Pels said that in Edmonton, it has been more difficult to open a second location.

In the coming weeks, the city plans to seek more input from citizens on regulations via an online survey.

The Government of Alberta completed an online survey on their draft framework on Oct. 27, 2017.