Council mulling $30k cannabis retail licence fee, operating hours

Mayor Greg Dionne said the full costs of legalization should be born by pot retailers, not tax payers. (Herald file photo)

Bianca Bharti, Daily Herald

City council is looking to charge the two cannabis retail stores a $30,000 business licence fee before they can open in Prince Albert.

During the executive meeting on Tuesday, council got into a rigorous discussion over what price the city should charge for the fee, as well as what the operating hours should be. Their eventual decision will come to a future council meeting to be passed as a bylaw.

Craig Guidinger, director of planning and development services, presented the meeting with three options.

The first, and recommended, option would see cannabis businesses charged $10,000 for a licence fee with a $100 annual renewal charge. After a year, he proposed, council should meet again and discuss if the renewal fee is enough.

The second option suggested a $20,000 business licence fee and an annual renewal fee of $100.

The third option suggested a $30,000 business licence fee and an annual renewal fee of $100.

Each option also set out hours of operation between 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and banned both secondary business operating within the premises and people under the age of 19 from being on site.

One of the two store-owners, Jim Southam of Prairie Cannabis, presented a speech at council, asking that the licence fee be reduced and operating hours be reconsidered.

“An exorbitant business licence fee will be a cost that we need to pass on to our customers, he said at the executive meeting. “If our product is too costly the black market will continue to thrive in Prince Albert.”

Currently, there is no federal or provincial ruling on the price of a gram, though the federal government has suggested $10 per gram.

Southam said he expected to receive equal treatment as other businesses in the city. New businesses in Prince Albert must pay $100 for a licence and $50 annually for a renewal fee.

He also mentioned liquor stores are allowed to operate until 2 a.m., and asked why cannabis should be treated differently.

With the new motion, Prince Albert would be charging the highest fee in the province. (Courtesy Planning and Development Services)

Mayor Greg Dionne took issue with Southam’s request for extended hours.

“Twelve hours a day, seven days a week, you don’t think that’s enough?… You’re asking for 19 hours, why not ask for 24?…,” Dionne said in reference to the province’s set hours of 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. “I don’t understand who needs to buy a joint… at 2 o’clock in the morning. I think we’re being more than fair at 12 hours a day seven days a week.”

The federal government said they will be transferring 75 per cent of cannabis revenues to the provinces, according to Dionne. He said the city asked for 30 per cent of the province’s cut, but he doesn’t think municipalities will see money from them.

Councillor Don Cody, who also sits on the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) board, said the province has not confirmed if they will be giving revenues to the city, nor whether they will provide resources such as inspectors.

Dionne: pot should pay for pot

Dionne said he thought the proposed $10,000 was too low. The city would have to provide inspection services, police resources and bylaw enforcement services. He said he would charge the business $50,000 or even $100,000 if he could, though he knows council doesn’t agree with that.

He said the city should “do it right the first time” by charging $30,000. Both the business licence and the renewal fee will pay for city resources when it comes to cannabis.

“Pot should pay for pot. I don’t want pot costs delivered by my taxpayers.”

The city is also only allowed to charge a fee that is defendable and doesn’t exceed the costs dedicated to policing and legislating cannabis, Guidinger said. If the renewal fees are lower than the actual costs, the city may amend the bylaw.

“Doing it right the first time in my opinion is revisiting it in a year, when we have more information and I can present the facts to (council) on what those resources are and what that’s costing the city,” Guidinger said during the meeting.

When asking about why council changed its position on operation hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in June to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in July, councillor Terra Lennox-Zepp was cut off by deputy mayor Dennis Nowoselsky. She had been speaking for about 20 minutes straight with the director.

The deputy mayor then moved on to councillor Ted Zurakowski and returned to her after two other councillors spoke.

Operating hours

Lennox-Zepp took issue with the proposed operation hours being 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., saying council asked the city planning and development services department only about the feasibility of switching from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., not to actually recommend that it be changed.

“It’s a recipe for bad governance when we have our departments changing recommendations month-to-month.”

After discussion and debate, the mayor motioned to have the business licence fee set at $30,000 and another motion to set operating hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. He did not set a renewal fee, as he said it should be looked to in a year’s time.

“First of all I’m opposed to the legalization, I want to make that known. However that being said, it’s happening and we have no choice,” councillor Dennis Ogrodnick said.

“Therefore, I do support some of (the) positions on being treated as a business like other businesses. So I was one of the few that thinks the licence should be $10,000.”

Both motions carried 6-3.

Couns. Evert Botha, Charlene Miller and Dennis Ogrodnick voted against the motion.

Council will further debate and vote on the bylaw at the next city council meeting.