Councils will have to make quick decision on allowing private retail cannabis stores

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OTTAWA—Municipal councils will have to make a decision on whether they opt out of allowing for private retail cannabis stores in the near future.

At the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual conference last week, politicians got insight on how municipalities will have to deal with cannabis legislation once the drug becomes legal this fall.

“Basically, new municipal councils at their first meeting or very soon after are going to have to decide if they are going to opt in our out of the cannabis program,” said Al Spacek, AMO president, after the annual conference. “That was the suggestion that came out of the meeting. The government is in a rush to get this in place.”

Al MacNevin, mayor of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI), told the Recorder that his municipality’s delegation, “had five meetings with five different ministers at the conference. But, this being a new government, the ministers were not able to give a lot of answers on our issues.”

“We talked to Minister Clark of Municipal Affairs on the new code of conduct-integrity commission issuance, as we are concerned with huge costs. We hope that the government will review this legislation and look at this further, so that municipalities don’t have to hire an integrity commissioner but rather, as has been the case in the past, if someone filed a complaint it would go through the Ombudsman’s office and would not mean more coming out of the municipal tax base. We were told they are going to review this legislation,” said Mayor MacNevin.”

On the issue of the pot cannabis legalization, Mayor MacNevin said, “we attended a couple of sessions at (AMO). After municipal elections this fall, councils will have to decide if they are going to opt out of allowing for retail sales of cannabis in stores. One of the concerns we have is with the expectation that policing costs will go up with the new legislation.”

At AMO it was learned that if a municipality is part of the program at the very beginning, then opts out later, it can’t rejoin in the future. At the conference there was general agreement that municipalities who don’t allow for the sale of cannabis from private retailers, that they should still share in the revenue that the sale of the drug will generate province-wide.

On another issue, “we had a meeting with minister Greg Rickford, on funding,” said Mayor MacNevin. “Currently there is a provincial freeze on hiring. There was a job opening at the office in Gore Bay for Heritage Funding applications to be sent through, but not one has been hired, so no one locally can apply for Heritage funding. Without a person in place at the office the program can’t continue. We asked that this hiring be expedited.”

On the issue of the legalization of cannabis sales in Ontario this fall, “private-only cannabis sales will be a financial and public-health mess. And the rookie premier is pretty much telling community leaders that they’re the ones who will have to clean it up,” said OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, in a press release.

“We’re already seeing leaders like Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson speak up for public cannabis sales,” said Mr. Thomas. “We’re going to make sure the premier hears from the hundreds of other community leaders who also want public cannabis sales.”
During and after an AMO conference session on August 22, entitled ‘Cannabis and Communities,’
OPSEU activists gathered petitions-signatures from municipal leaders opposed to Mr. Ford’s private-only approach to cannabis retail sales. They also distributed a motion that municipal councillors can use to officially demand a public cannabis-sales option.

Along with the municipal leaders, a number of public health organizations are already on the record supporting a largely or completely public system of cannabis retail sales. And now privacy experts are adding their voices to the growing concerns about the government’s cannabis plan, suggesting cannabis buyers won’t trust their personal information to online sales and will continue to use the black market instead, the release notes.

“Privatization looks good to the premier because he won’t have to pay for public stores,” said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “But as OPSEU’s treasurer, I know that nothing in life is free. Somebody’s going to have to pay for the regulation and enforcement of private retail outlets, and municipalities are going to get stuck with the bill.”

But Mr. Thomas said he is confident municipal leaders will convince the premier to reverse course.

“This is a classic case of ‘ready, fire, aim’,” said Mr. Thomas. “The rookie premier made a huge mistake when he refused to consult with anybody other than political insiders with a personal stake in the industry before deciding that cannabis will only be sold in profit-driven private storefronts. We’re going to make sure he knows that community leaders from Kenora to Cornwall want him to fix this mistake, and fix it now.”