Orangeville Council to allow cannabis retail stores in town

December 14, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Area residents will have the opportunity to purchase cannabis legally in Orangeville, Town Council having opted in Monday to the provincial government’s scheme to roll out privatized storefront retail sites in the new year. 

The legalization of marijuana has been long debated in Canada. Having promised legalization during the 2015 election campaign, the federal government announced plants to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis on April 13, 2017. The Cannabis Act states the federal government would regulate production and basic over-arching rules for possession, access and enforcement, while the responsibility for distribution and retail sales would fall to the provincial governments. Cannabis was officially legalized on Oct. 17. 

“We are not here tonight to debate if cannabis is good or bad. The federal government has decided that for us,” said Deputy Mayor Andy Macintosh. 

On Sept. 27, the Ontario government introduced Bill 36 – a revision to a cannabis framework put in place by the previous Liberal government. In the revision, the Province noted it would allow private sector cannabis retail stores in Ontario, establishing the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) as the licensing and approval authority for all proposed sites. 

Anyone hoping to set up their own cannabis retail store will be subject to a rigorous application process, which AGCO plans to roll out by Dec. 17. Applicants will be required to post notice at the proposed location of the retail store and encourage comments and discussion with residents and the municipality about the proposed site. 

Cannabis retail locations will not be permitted within 150 metres of any school, while provincial legislation allows for separation distances to be contemplated for other facilities should there be public concern. There is no limit on the number of storefront retail sites a municipality may have, although the Province has put a limit of 75 retail store authorizations that any individual or entity may collectively hold, essentially outlawing monopolization of sales. 

Municipalities will be afforded opportunities to provide input during the authorization process, although councils will not be able to dictate exactly where potential cannabis retail sites will be situated.

“A municipality only has a commenting role to the ACGO on prospective storefront locations within its jurisdiction,” the provincial legislation reads. “The final approval of a storefront location rests with the AGCO and is based solely on whether or not the application meets all requirements specified by the province, as well as other subjective criteria, such as whether the application is in the public interest, having regards to the needs and wishes of the residents.”

Municipalities were given the chance to opt out of hosting retail locations, with any community in opposition asked to submit their decision by Jan. 22. The Town of Erin was one of the first municipalities in Ontario to opt out of hosting retail cannabis sites when its council voted no last week. It’s unclear at this time whether any other nearby municipalities plan to opt out. 

To address the anticipated financial impacts on municipal services, such as policing, bylaw enforcement and public health, the provincial government will spend $40 million over two years to assist municipal governments faced with additional costs incurred through the legalization of cannabis. 

Beginning in January, the Province will make an initial funding payment to all municipalities on a per-household basis, adjusted so that at least $5,000 is provided to each municipality. 

The Province is also setting aside $10 million to address costs for unforeseen circumstances related to legalizing recreational cannabis, stating that the priority for such funding will be given to municipalities that have not opted-out of hosting retail storefronts. In addition, the Province has stated if Ontario’s portion of the federal excise duty on recreational cannabis exceeds $100 million over the first two years of legalization, it will provide 50 percent of the surplus to municipalities that have decided to opt in.

Upper Grand District School Board Superintendent Gary Slater submitted a letter to Orangeville Council encouraging them to opt out of the initiative. 

“As staff, we share concerns that potential increased access by youth in our communities may result in more addiction, mental health and discipline issues in our schools,” Mr. Slater wrote. “At this time, we encourage that communities opt-out of retail distribution until there is a clearer understanding of the social and financial impacts of legalization of recreational cannabis and retail distribution.”

In Ontario, you must be 19 and older to buy, use, possess and grow recreational cannabis. This is the same as the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in the province.

While selling recreational cannabis will be legal in Orangeville, smoking it in public will not. Councillor Todd Taylor was keen to press that point home as he provided his reasons for opting in.

“I am a bit conflicted on this issue. It is a unique time in our country that we are sitting here tonight talking about something that, for all my life, has been illegal. For me, though, we should allow this to go through in our town,” Coun. Taylor said. “If we opt out, that will put us at an economic disadvantage compared to some other areas in Ontario. Mono could say yes and become a host (for a cannabis retail store). We will not benefit from this.”

He added, “The community needs to understand that if we say no now and we opt out now, we won’t receive the money from the provincial government that we are eligible for today. To not pursue this doesn’t seem the right thing.”

The AGCO has announced that the first recreational cannabis retail stores would be permitted to open and operate on April 1. In the meantime, Ontario residents are still able to order cannabis legally from the online Ontario Cannabis Store.

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