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MSI funding, cannabis legalization topical at AUMA leaders caucus

The possible loss of Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding were hot topics at last week's Municipal Leaders Caucus in Edmonton.

The possible loss of Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding were hot topics at last week's Municipal Leaders Caucus in Edmonton.

Mayor Jeff Genung attended the two-day Alberta Urban Municipalities Association-hosted event - where overwhelming concern over the possibility of ending MSI grant funding in 2019 was discussed, as was the role of municipalities in cannabis legalization.

Genung said the issue of MSI funding and the possibility of losing it brings forward the growth issue.

As the funding is on a per capita basis, Cochrane has been on the receiving end in heavy growth years, with a 2018 budget based on a conservative forecast of four per cent.

“Municipalities need a sustainable, ongoing funding program - whether it's called MSI or something else, ” said Genung, of the takeaway from the roundtable workshops on day two of the conference.

Genung said the workshop portion produced such possibilities as baseline calculations for MSI funding, which would increase depending on economic growth.

With other municipalities talking about slow or no growth, Genung said increasing taxes and holding off on major projects are the real consequences to excessively slowing down growth - something to be mindful of moving forward.

The blazing hot topic of cannabis was top of mind at the caucus - something that Cochranites will have a glimpse into with the first reading of the Land Use Bylaw review at town council on March 26.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) will be responsible for the oversight of private retailers and distribution of cannabis in the province.

The Alberta Cannabis Framework has four policy priorities: to keep cannabis out of the hands of minors; to protect safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces; to protect public health; and to limit the illegal market.

Genung said he was surprised to learn that the initial legalization roll-out only pertains to dried cannabis (what is smoked or vaped), as determined at the federal level. For the time being, edibles and oils will remain medicinal and will not be legalized for recreational consumption - something that is anticipated to be phased in over time.

While the date for legalization was initially set for Canada Day, it is believed it will be delayed until as late as this fall - depending on how the June 7 Senate vote goes.

Michelle Hynes-Dawson, AGLC spokesperson, said they are looking to the budget - to be announced later today - for further information on cost implementation of legalization.

With respect to cannabis sales, potential retailers must apply to the AGLC for a licence and provide background checks for all employees. Once approved, a development permit must be submitted to the municipality.

Consumption of cannabis on site will not be permitted. Those who purchase cannabis at licensed storefronts will have to leave the sites to light up - much like alcohol.

The minimum setbacks for retailers will be 100 metres from sites such as schools, day cares and parks. Each municipality can choose to increase these setbacks.

With respect to smoking, this would be addressed at the municipal level through smoking bylaw amendments. While a public hearing is not required to update the smoking bylaw, it is possible there would be a non-statutory public hearing held due to the sensitive nature of cannabis. Genung said it is too preliminary to confirm.

Issues including enforcement and revenues to be collected by municipalities are yet to be determined.

Recent reports indicate 25 per cent of cannabis revenues will be collected by the federal government and 75 per cent by the provinces; it is yet to be determined how much of the 75 per cent will be funneled to the individual municipalities.

Education, taxation, retail locations, regulations and public consumption are all areas of the roll-out that will be governed by both the municipality and province and sometimes the federal government. Land-use zoning is the only element that is solely under municipal jurisdiction.

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Lindsay  Seewalt

About the Author: Lindsay Seewalt

Lindsay is a senior Eagle reporter who has transformed her penchant for storytelling into the craft of writing.
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