Richmond Hill is putting the brakes on the provincial government's offer to open a legal marijuana store in their community.
Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow said council received a letter from the Ministry of Finance on Nov. 28 which informed them that their town had been identified as one of the next possible homes to a cannabis shop once marijuana becomes legalized in July 2018.
Barrow said he and his councillors were taken aback by the letter, given that it appeared the government had chosen the town definitively despite asking them what they thought about the offer.
“We sat at council and decided as a group of people that if they’re asking what we think of it, we’ll tell them that we’re not a willing host,” Barrow told CP24 on Thursday.
“That was our first reaction – that we’d prefer not to have one in the town of Richmond Hill.”
He said the town recognizes that legalization is “well on the path” forward in Canada but they're concerned with the lack of details in the legislation regarding municipalities.
“Quite frankly, we don’t know how it works. The process coming down, I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how they choose sites. I’m assuming they’re not near schools or any place that would entice young people to come in, but I don’t know,” he said. “I think that’s an issue we’re dealing with, the fact we don’t know what’s happening, we don’t know how it’s going to be dealt with.”
One of the key concerns raised by councilors at the meeting this week – where they voted unanimously in favour of telling the province that they’re not a “willing host” – was policing.
According to Barrow, the Chief of Police for York Region has pegged the minimum cost to regulate and enforce the changes at around $3 million.
“Policing alone is a cost no one has discussed how it’s going to be paid,” he said.
Barrow’s concerns have also been echoed by Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.
“They asked me as the mayor of Markham what was my opinion about being in the first round of retail stores and I said that we still have a lot of unanswered questions, things about community safety, things about the impact to families and children,” he said.
“At least they’re talking to us but I expressed that we really don’t want to be the first. We want to see how these retail outlets will operate in a community.”
Neither Richmond Hill nor Markham made the province’s original list of 14 cities that will host the first round of pot stores in July of 2018.
Eventually, the province intends to sell pot in up to 150 stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to people 19 and older.
Barrow said the town’s current answer of “no” may actually translate to a “not yet.”
“This has nothing to do with medical marijuana, we understand how that works. This is recreational and quite frankly we don’t know how it works,” he said.
“If they want to push it to 2019 or 2020 after they’ve got a few up and running and all the kinks are out of it then yes, we can look at it again but right now we’re not interested in being the one that’s tested.”