It started over a year ago, in April of 2017 when the Government of Canada implemented new legislation to legalize access to cannabis. Now, with legalization at the door, many businesses are wondering what the impacts will be within the workplace.
Legalization, expected to come into place this summer, will allow adults over 18 (although certain provinces may increase the minimum age limit) to possess up to 30 grams of legally-produced cannabis, and to grow up to four cannabis plants per household. It’s a change that carries promise for the growth of businesses that cater to the cannabis industry—and for the potential of regulation to improve the quality and safety of the drug. Positive attributes aside, however, the new legislation still awakens concern. Legalization carries potential risks for the workplace, and while Alberta’s plan for action prioritizes the promotion of safety on roads, in workplaces, and in public spaces, according to the Government of Alberta website, many are curious about how that promotion of safety is going to shape Edmonton’s businesses, its streets, and its economy.
The Government of Alberta lists one of its primary strategies for maintaining safety in the workplace (as well as on the roads and in public spaces) as reviewing the system that is already in place to ensure it is equipped to deal with cannabis impairment among other types of impairment. That means “working with the transportation sector, law enforcement, and the justice system” to make any necessary changes; “undertaking public education and awareness” initiatives; and “working with industry and labour to assess current workplace rules to address impairment at work.”
“All Albertans deserve a safe and healthy work environment,” says Michelle Newlands, spokesperson for Minister of Labour Christina Gray. “When it comes to safety, we need to ensure that we’re balancing the rights of workers and the rights of employers.”
“We are currently consulting with employers and workers on potential policies and best practices to ensure that all workplaces have the tools they need in place for the legalization of cannabis,” she adds.
That could mean big changes, but those changes aren’t limited to Edmonton’s workplaces.
As Niki Anderson, branch manager, Integrated Strategic Development, City of Edmonton, explains, “Legalization will impact virtually all areas of the City. Considering zoning for new cannabis businesses (retailers, processors, and growers), business licensing, public consumption, public safety, and our own internal employees, there is a lot of work that we, and our partners, need to do to help ensure that we are ready for legalization. The City of Edmonton continues to prepare for the legalization of cannabis through the amendment of bylaws, public education, and engagement with citizens.”
“Three City of Edmonton Bylaws will be amended to reflect legalization: Public Places, Business Licensing, and Zoning,” Anderson explains. “We are specifically amending bylaws relating to zoning (where cannabis stores can be located), business licensing, operating hours, store fixtures and improvements, and also public consumption (where people will be allowed to smoke or vape),” Anderson elaborates. “As a City, we are adding resources in our development permit and business licensing areas to be able to review the applications that we are expecting to receive. We are also adding staff to our bylaw enforcement teams and fire and rescue services to help conduct safety reviews.”
“We think that cannabis will create opportunities for business and the economy,” says Anderson. “This includes new industry, from growers to processors and retailers.”
“As mentioned previously,” Anderson adds, “our goal is to provide a legislative framework to allow the market to progress in an open and transparent process. We want to ensure that our core principles are reflected in what we bring forward: 1) public health and safety 2) drug, alcohol, and tobacco-free youth 3) being business friendly and 4) balancing community livability.”
Mark Barron Wilbert, partner/realtor, Coldwell Banker Venture Realty, is also quick to point to the positive potential legalization holds for Edmonton. “The reality is that legalized cannabis could potentially turn into a $100 million-dollar industry, so there is a mad rush of those that want to be part of the ‘action’. There are so many questions still to be answered,” Wilbert continues; however, “I believe many industries and businesses that are not directly involved with cannabis retail or production will benefit from the legalization indirectly. In addition to the taxes being collected from this industry, there are other benefits: existing commercial spaces will be revitalized, vacant spaces will be filled, and a new market will be born.”
The idea that legalization could physically re-shape the city is an interesting one.
“Many of the clients we are working with have been looking for two types of locations” he adds: “1) high exposure and traffic; busy areas where people will already be. These areas are sought-after, and lease terms may not be reasonable or in favor of the tenant. 2) Destination locations, or locations that are close to residential communities—this location would be the convenient alternative to the busy areas. These spaces have more options and can potentially be more creative. Ideally, the perfect space has a combination of both exposure and convenience.”
But the challenges extend beyond new businesses seeking profitable spaces for their cannabis-based businesses, and part of that comes down to this new industry’s pre-existing stigma.
“It is very interesting seeing the difference between landlords. There are three that I have come across in my discussions: 1) the landlord that wants nothing to do with cannabis and has no interest in leasing to a retail location 2) the landlord that is on the fence and patiently waiting until the dust settles in order to see what the true outcome will be, and 3) the landlord that is open to cannabis retail stores as a tenant and is willing to be part of the frenzy. More businesses are realizing that many of these shops will be more like a boutique with modern designs rather than the traditional paraphernalia smoke shop.”
“It is unlikely that all back alleys will now be clean and safe after the legalization goes through,” Wilbert notes. “I believe the steps being taken to legalize cannabis will resolve some current community issues, but more important is how the new regulations will be enforced to minimize the potential negative effects going forward.”
“If we learn from our neighbours that have already approved the legalization of retail cannabis, we can potentially avoid many of their mistakes,” Wilbert concludes. “By focusing on the positive impacts and minimizing the negative, legalization can definitely turn into a win-win situation for the community and industry.”