Nationwide marijuana legalization is months off at best. But municipalities across Canada are currently staking their interest in the cannabis market. As ordered by the federal government, all cities and towns in Canada must hold public forums or surveys to gauge their community’s interest in legal cannabis.
It looks like rural areas are welcoming legalization and the job opportunities that should come with the addition of cannabis farms and production facilities. Meanwhile, in the suburbs outside of Vancouver and Toronto, residents seem to be dreading what they think cannabis legalization will bring to their towns.
Western Towns Hit by Economic Losses View Cannabis as a Lifeline
Smaller towns in Western Canada will now be home to a few massive cannabis industry facilities, being brought in by various licensed producers (LP). LPs report little to no resistance to these new operations, with people eagerly awaiting job listings from the companies.
Lush Vancouver Island is home to First Nations tribes of the Cowichan Valley. Timber and farming used to support the economy until talent in those sectors started heading off the island for major cities.
But when a medical marijuana company moved in, so did new jobs and a renewed sense of purpose for the community. Harvest One Cannabis Inc.'s new $9 million grow facility is on land owned by the Cowichan Tribes. This is an expansion to an already-functioning plant that should bring more jobs and provide a shot in the arm to the local economy.
It doesn't take many hands to run a cannabis facility, but it can have a massive impact on a smaller community—arguably even more than it would on a large municipality. Fortunately, Harvest One is actively including the community in its business, releasing a statement that it hopes to employ First Nations members once the expansion is complete.
Aurora Cannabis Inc. broke ground last year on a nearly 75,000-square-metre medical marijuana production plant in Leduc, Alberta. The new 100-million-dollar investment is expected to add 200–300 jobs in the area. Alberta has been in an economic turndown since oil prices dropped at the end of 2014, so locals are welcoming this new business with open arms.
In the town of Battleford, Saskatchewan, the 4,065 residents are open to both cannabis retail outlets and grow operations. The town, founded in 1875 as a fur trading post and North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) fort, had no objections when the zoning amendment bylaws were presented in April.
“Nobody has come down personally and objected to the cannabis bylaw, so at this point, it looks like other people are not voicing their opinion, or they were not against anything that was presented by the town,” said Battleford’s Mayor Ames Leslie.
Cannabis Grow-Ops are Growth Opportunities in Rural Ontario
While some areas of Canada fear marijuana grows eating up their agricultural land, other rural towns are lining up to claim a share of the economic benefits.
Ontario has seen entire counties dissolve after a large factory closes or once the latest agricultural shift makes production dry up. But marijuana facilities have managed to save more than one area from the same fate. In small towns with high unemployment rates, the locals tend to regard medical and recreational marijuana operations as a boon for economic revival.
Canopy Growth Corp., Canada's largest cannabis producer, made a considerable impact when it transformed a vacant Hershey chocolate factory in Smiths Falls, Ontario, into a grow facility that employs locals.
In Kincardine on the western coast of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula, a forgotten greenhouse went from growing tomatoes to growing cannabis under The Supreme Cannabis Company’s brand 7 Acres. The facility now covers seven acres of land in an industrial park. The Supreme Cannabis Company's greenhouse currently employs almost 200 workers after two years of operation. It says it may add another 100–150 staff with the company's recently acquired facility. Murray Clarke, Kincardine chief administrative officer, says the decision to welcome the operation into the community saw little opposition.
Richmond Hill, Ontario is Closed to Marijuana Businesses
In Ontario, where the starting number of cannabis dispensaries is capped at 40, the province is choosing retail marijuana locations despite pushback. The cannabis legalization plan in the country's most populated region is relatively tame compared to other provinces. But some municipalities don’t even want the legalization-light version of marijuana reform.
Richmond Hill, north of Toronto doesn’t want a marijuana shop nested in its town. Mayor Dave Barrow cites lack of overall knowledge as the reason that many remain opposed to legal marijuana.
"We know nothing. They know nothing," the mayor said of the province. "[So] thanks very much but we're not a willing host."
Barrow said his city isn't ready to swallow any costs related to legalization, and his office is still seeking clarification on what aspects of legalization and marijuana businesses it would be financially responsible for. He also worries about policing costs and how an increase in smokers could lead to more disruptive issues for officials to deal with.
Richmond, B.C. Is Actively Opposed to Cannabis Legalization
Richmond, B.C., home to 220,000 residents, is vehemently opposed to marijuana legalization. It remains the largest city without a marijuana dispensary or medical marijuana clinic.
Richmond is waiting for more direction from the province, but the city’s council has already voted to send letters to the B.C. and federal governments expressing its opposition. Mayor Malcolm Brodie says he’s willing to go so far to manage marijuana to implement zoning to control where retail shops can set up.
Giving Municipalities the Right to Opt In to the Cannabis Market
The divide between the “yes” and the “no” camps seems pretty cut and dried. Rural areas or former manufacturing towns are opening their arms to the companies that need space to grow and process thousands of cannabis plants. But for storefronts looking to open up shop in the suburbs, where kid-friendly spaces often take precedence over industry, it's a different story.
MP Bill Blair, the Canadian government's cannabis legalization point person, believes those currently opposed to legal cannabis will shift their thinking once the industry is up and running. He says he thinks that most municipalities will see legalization and regulation as a better option than leaving cannabis in the hands of gangs and local drug dealers who don't have the public’s best interests in mind.
According to Health Canada, municipalities won't be able to just flat-out ban marijuana sales without discussions with their provincial leaders. The cannabis bill is so far only at second reading in the Senate, which means implementation could happen starting this fall. Some Conservative senators remain skeptical about the legislation, with worries about young people, smoking rates and what will happen to the marijuana black market. Only time will tell if legal cannabis ends up hurting or helping communities across Canada.
Photo credit: Cannabis Reports