Ontario Municipalities Protest Retail Cannabis Stores

byAlanaArmstrong3 minutes

The province of Ontario was the first to disclose its plans for legalizing and regulating non-medical marijuana in Canada. On Tuesday, Dec. 12, it was the first to pass legislation giving the government a monopoly on those sales. MPPs passed the Cannabis Act 63 to 27, with support from the Liberals and the NDP, while the PC party voted no.

The bill creates a provincial agency, at the moment named the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, which will distribute and retail cannabis through storefronts and online. It will also be responsible for levying stiff fines of up to $1 million to companies who sell marijuana outside of these parameters.

The province aims to open 40 marijuana storefronts in 2018, rising to about 150 by 2020. The problem is, not all of the municipalities chosen to host these stores want them.

Municipal Engagement Is a Priority Where Marijuana Stores Are Planned

Some mayors in the Greater Toronto Area are taking a NIMBY stance to having a marijuana store in their area, even though they’re practically powerless to stop Queen's Park.

Among them is Dave Barrow defending Richmond Hill, a suburb north of Toronto. His town council has received complaints—thousands, reportedly—from residents who don't want any government-run stores, such as those that exist for the sale of alcohol. Mr. Barrow said he expects a store will eventually open despite his town's objections, though he hopes to delay the process until 2019 or 2020.

Meanwhile, Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti says that if he had his way, his community would have no marijuana store at all.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is taking a proactive stance, calling on the province to iron out a deal to make sure everyone gets a cut of tax revenue following next year’s nationwide legalization of marijuana. She summed up a press release in a single tweet, “We want our fair share.”

The office of Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says that the government won’t force municipalities to accept stores in this first wave of 40 outlets due to be open by July 2018.

Jessica Martin, Mr. Sousa’s press secretary commented via email: "As we roll out the next phase of stores, we will continue to engage with municipalities on an ongoing basis, including with those municipalities who may not be ready for a store opening in July 2018. Ultimately, our goal through a controlled model is to ensure a safe and sensible framework for cannabis legalization."

Ontario Municipalities Indicated for Marijuana Stores

Early in November, the Ministry of Finance and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) identified the first 14 Ontario municipalities intended for stand-alone cannabis stores by July 2018. On Dec. 12, they added another 15 cities to the list.

There appears to be no defined way for a municipality to veto plans to open one of the 150 stores planned for their region by 2020. The province says it will, instead, delay opening branches of its new cannabis retail chain in municipalities that object to having them.

The LCBO says it’s “identifying specific sites for retail locations, consistent with the guidelines and other considerations discussed in engagement meetings with the identified municipalities. … The guidelines address the key objectives in the province's proposed framework for protecting youth, providing access within communities and addressing the illegal market.”

Residents can find more information and submit anonymous feedback about the plans for the store through an LCBO-run website.

Finance Minister Wants Municipalities as Partners in Legalized Cannabis

Now that legislation has passed at Ontario's town hall, municipalities can begin discussions with the province over costs associated with legalized marijuana and the new tax revenue-sharing agreement laid out between the federal government and provincial finance ministers this month.

Municipalities that participate in the first wave of legal stores will shoulder most of the costs of marijuana legalization and want funding to offset the expense.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa says one of his top concerns is that municipalities are not "out of pocket" for a legalization plan that isn't something they created. "We want municipalities to be partners in this," he said. "They're being imposed [upon] by the federal government, as are the provinces. This is their timeline; this is their program. We just want to make sure we provide the necessary support for the communities. We'll work with the municipalities to make sure they get compensated."

Photo credit: Berkay Gumustekin