Municipalities can opt out of pot shops
By Chad Ingram
Published Aug. 30, 2018
Municipal councils will be able to vote to opt out of having physical marijuana stores within their boundaries.
“This is all about trying to stay ahead of one of the biggest policy changes in a long, long time,” says Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. Moffatt represented Haliburton County during a roundtable discussion on cannabis at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa last week.
Marijuana is set to become legal in Canada on Oct. 17, and in Ontario, the new Progressive Conservative government has made some changes to the plan that was going to be implemented by the previous Liberal government.
While the Wynne government had announced that 40 government-run cannabis stores would open in Ontario by the end of 2018, and more thereafter, the Ford government has said it will launch a private retail system in the province in the spring of 2019. In the interim, marijuana will be sold online by the government.
The province is giving municipal governments the opportunity to opt out of having private marijuana stores located within their boundaries, although no firm date as to when these decisions would have to be made has yet been provided.
“They believe it needs to be one of the first orders of business after the elections,” Moffatt said. Municipal elections in Ontario take place Oct. 22, just days after marijuana becomes legal in the country.
It’s been indicated that just because a municipality chooses to opt out of housing private retailers, doesn’t mean it can’t opt back in later.
The province has dedicated $40 million to municipalities to help with costs associated with pot legalization, and Moffatt said it was relayed at the conference that each municipality will receive $10,000 to help with upfront costs.
“What happens after that is what they’re consulting on,” Moffatt said. The province continues to seek input from municipalities on the creation of a regulatory framework.
It remains unclear how much tax revenue from marijuana sales will be distributed among municipalities on an ongoing basis.
Along with anticipated increased calls for service by police, the policy change brings about numerous considerations for municipalities, from planning – should special zoning be created for cannabis production – to potential licensing fees.
“Everybody’s very concerned about protecting youth,” Moffatt said, explaining this was a major topic of conversation at the conference. Some communities have started youth prevention and education programs, and the province is also working on a diversion framework that would keep youth charged with marijuana-related offences out of the criminal justice system.
Like alcohol, the legal age for marijuana will be 19.