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Working with Municipalities

Many believe that the first step and biggest hurdle towards opening a retail location is the licensing application to the provincial or territorial government. Although an applicant must obtain a licence from this level of government prior to opening for business, there is one key component that is often overlooked—the role of the municipal government.

Across the country, municipalities are in varying stages of readiness for issuing cannabis retail licensing applications and therefore, it’s critical to be educated on where they are in this process. Getting involved at the municipal level early, is a key advantage to laying the groundwork for a successful retail location. Collaborate with municipal staff members who can serve as your liaison and designate someone from your organization to be the city’s contact person. Good communication between the city and business community is important, so be aware of the different ways that the municipality communicates (e.g. newsletters, website, Facebook, Twitter, email blasts, etc.).

Research Bylaws

For those municipalities that have developed bylaws, know what is required to open a cannabis retail store in the municipality. Some municipalities have applications specifically for cannabis retail stores. Permits and licence issuance remains an important part of the bylaw enforcement function for many local governments. The application varies across provinces and territories depending on the regulations and authorities they provide to local governments. Building permit and business licence applications are also a significant opportunity for local governments to review bylaw compliance and bylaw officers will be enforcing compliance.

Without the recommendation of the municipality, the application will not be considered by the Province of BC.

Provincial Licensing

BC – In BC, the local government recommendation that a licence be given to an applicant must show that the government has reviewed the location of the proposed store. A written report is required to include the views of the local government on the general impact on the community. They must include the views of residents, if the local government has gathered resident’s views, and a description of how the views were gathered. This must be unique to each application that is received and cannot be based on a past recommendation. The report must state whether the application should be approved or rejected along with the reasons upon which the recommendation is based and any supporting documents that are referenced in the report. Without the recommendation of the municipality, the application will not be considered by the Province of BC.

Once an application contains the required documentation and the fee has been paid, the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) will contact the local government of the area where the proposed store will be located and request approval. A licence will not be granted until the municipality approves of the location. Knowing how the municipality assesses the application is the key to success. In BC and Alberta, each municipality was given the opportunity to develop bylaws and municipal applications for cannabis retail stores. The information required for an application varies as do the bylaws surrounding zoning, hours of operation, and store requirements. As part of the municipal approval process you might be required to provide additional information in the form of a municipal application. The application may be available online or you may be required to apply in person. Some municipalities also request in person interviews with the applicant.

Alberta – Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) post the location of proposed sites online for 21 days allowing for submission objections by anyone. Objections can be made based on the number of existing stores in the municipality, the distance between stores, community image, safety, and property values. The applicant must obtain a municipal business licence and or development permit. In Alberta, there is no formal exchange between the province and the municipality—the municipality’s approval is demonstrated by the presence of a business licence and/or development permit, which must be provided to the AGLC. The AGLC will not issue a retail licence without them.

Ontario – In Ontario, the municipalities have until January 22, 2019 to inform the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) if they wish to opt-out of having retail cannabis stores in their community. Municipalities that choose to opt out can later opt in at any time, but once they opt-in they cannot later opt-out. For First Nation Reserves, a cannabis store must receive approval of the Band Council. Potential locations will be identified in two ways, proposed locations will be posted on the AGCO website, and placards will be posted in the proposed site. Residents living in the municipality of a proposed cannabis store location can share their views with the AGCO before a retail store is authorized, during a fifteen day period. Objections are to be based on public safety, protecting youth, restricting their access to cannabis, and preventing illicit activities in relation to cannabis.

Be aware of any appeal processes if your application is initially rejected at the municipal level.

Address Your Community’s Concerns Early

Working with the municipality and addressing concerns the community has during the time in which your application is being considered is essential. Be prepared to address these concerns and work with the councillors to resolve any issues. Be aware of any appeal processes if your application is initially rejected at the municipal level.

Opening a retail cannabis store is not an easy task, nor should it be taken lightly. Once the decision has been made to enter the retail cannabis market, do your homework. Learn everything there is to know about the way the municipality is dealing with prospective retailers. Be prepared to learn as well as educate councillors and members of the community and be the best advocate for your cannabis retail plan.

Angela Park is Retail Licensing Manager at Cannabis Compliance Inc., which is the largest cannabis consulting firm in Canada and abroad that provides advice on licensing applications in adherence with the Cannabis Act in Canada. Their expertise spans from the licensing through to quality assurance, cultivation, business planning, security and facility design, and medical import/export in Canada and across the globe.