Mississauga, Markham say no to retail pot stores while Toronto mulls options
It’s a no-go for retail cannabis stores in Mississauga and Markham.
In a 10-2 vote, Mississauga city council decided Wednesday to opt-out of having storefront pot stores.
In a statement, Mayor Bonnie Crombie said there are “too many unknowns” about the rollout of the retail model.
“Council feels that the recent changes to the retail cannabis model have occurred too quickly and there are too many unanswered questions at this time,” Crombie wrote in a statement.
“The province has not given municipalities any control over where cannabis stores can be located in our city. This is cause for great concern.”
Crombie said the city may decide to opt-in in the future but needs more time to “get this right.”
“I will be writing a letter to the province to explain our council’s decision and will be asking for greater powers for municipalities concerning both zoning and enforcement,” she wrote.
“Simply put: If stores are to be permitted in Mississauga, we need to have greater say about what works best for our community.”
Mere hours after Mississauga made their decision, Markham followed suit.
The decision was made in a 12-1 vote on Wednesday afternoon.
The Canadian government legalized cannabis on Oct. 17. So far, Ontario has only made legal marijuana available for purchase through their online shop, the Ontario Cannabis Store. Retail cannabis stores are due to launch by April 1, 2019.
Under the previous Liberal government, the 150 brick-and-mortar stores would have been government-run and modelled on LCBO outlets.
That system was scrapped by Premier Doug Ford in August.
Under the Cannabis Licence Act, municipalities must decide whether to allow independently-run stores by Jan. 22, 2019.
As part of the regulations, stores cannot allow anyone under the age of 19 inside, they must be sand-alone establishments and they must have a minimum distance of 150 metres away from schools.
The revamped rules have drawn criticism from some municipalities.
In Brampton, a newly-elected councillor has made it her mission to ban retail cannabis stores in the city and she says the majority of her constituents are on her side.
Ward 7 and 8 Coun. Charmaine Williams said that residents are concerned about the proximity the stores will be to schools.
In Toronto, retail pot shops seem to have somewhat of an ally in Mayor John Tory.
At an unrelated event on Wednesday, Tory announced that he intends to vote to opt-in to cannabis stores when the issue is raised at Toronto city council tomorrow.
“I think the sensible decision – and I will cast my own vote, I have only one – I will vote for opting in tomorrow because I believe that rather than leaving the retail supply of marijuana in the hands of people who are doing it illegally, we are better off to have a regulated approach,” he said.
However, Tory was quick to emphasize his concerns about the lack of control the city has on where the stores open up.
He said he intends to file a motion along with his vote that asks the city seek more autonomy on some of the cannabis regulations laid out by the province.
“We don’t want six or seven of them located on one strip of the Danforth or anywhere else in the city, for example. We don’t want them to be too close to schools or playgrounds and things like that,” he said.
“Right now the rules leave it uncertain as to whether we’ll have the degree of control that I think cities, including Toronto, should have.”
More control is exactly what Coun. Jim Karygiannis will be after at Thursday’s city council meeting.
The Ward 25 (Scarborough-Agincourt) councillor says he intends to bring forward a motion seeking permission for wards to be allowed to opt-out of retail cannabis stores, just like municipalities. The notion is already garnering some support from fellow councilors Mike Colle and newcomer Cynthia Lai, Karygiannis claims.
He said he’s heard “loud and clear” from his constituents that pot shops aren’t welcome.
“They’re worried about the proximity of cannabis dispensaries close to religious, educational and recreational institutions like community centres, schools, churches, temples… They don’t want them,” he said. “I have a young constituency, I have a lot of new immigrants, and they’re not supporting cannabis dispensaries.”
Now that Markham has barred the storefront shops, Karygiannis says his concerns have grown.
“The city of Markham is just right above my ward. What’s going to happen with them opting out is that a lot of the dispensaries will be coming up in my part of the world in order to set up, in order to attract the traffic from Markham,” he told CTV News Toronto. “Well my constituents don’t want it and I don’t want it. So if we have an opportunity for municipalities to opt out, we (wards) should have the same opportunity.”
Coun. Joe Cressy, however, says he believes the city has no other choice but to opt-in.
“Listen, legalization is long overdue,” he said.
“The challenge is the regulatory framework the province has come up with has glaring omissions and holes. So while we have to opt in, I think we need to continue to push for a stronger regulatory framework.”