Municipalities will drive pot retailing in Manitoba

Manitoba farmers and rural residents looking for pot in their local towns and those opposed to legally selling cannabis don’t yet know if marijuana shops will be springing up on main street.

None of that is clear as the Manitoba government develops its legalized cannabis system.

However, it is clear that municipalities will decide whether or not to allow pot shops to operate.

“Municipalities are pleased in general that zoning criteria will still be left with them,” said Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Chris Goertzen, who is also mayor of Steinbach.

“Communities will be allowed to have the final say.”

How tightly the provincial government will restrict the number of pot vendors and whether that will exclude small town entrepreneurs from opening outlets remains uncertain.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the goal of the retail approach is to “push the gangs out of this business” and to have the drug available for 90 percent of Manitobans within a 30-minute drive.

Private providers will own the retail side of the business, while the provincial government will own, operate, or contract, the sourcing, distribution and regulating.

Goertzen noted that 75 percent of the provincial population lives in Winnipeg. With that overwhelming urban population base, it would be possible to open marijuana outlets in Winnipeg, Brandon, and Winkler, and most of the provincial availability objective is met.

Winkler mayor Martin Harder was unhappy with the provincial decision to allow each municipality to decide if it will allow cannabis retail sales. He said communities such as his could become divided over the issue. Many residents are opposed to any legalization, and past disputes over whether or not to allow alcohol sales have been divisive.

Goertzen said the AMM will work with the province to make sure municipalities can handle the legalization of cannabis sales. Now, it is relying upon a “toolkit” provided by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to deal with the zoning issues that will arise.

If municipalities want to adequately cover the fledging marijuana business, they will need to amend their zoning bylaws, Goertzen said.

“I would imagine that most, if not all, municipalities will amend their new zoning bylaws to include this new use,” said Goertzen.

The provincial government wants to see the outlets operating on July 2.

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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