Napanee mulls cannabis decision
Greater Napanee hosted a public meeting on Thursday night to discuss whether the municipality should opt out of cannabis retail outlets.
The municipality has until Jan. 22 to decide to opt out in writing to the Ontario government. If it does opt out, it can opt in again at a later date.
Without that notice by Jan. 22, the municipality will automatically opt in.
Just over two dozen local residents attended the meeting, which was moved from town hall to the South Fredericksburgh Hall at the southern end of the municipality in anticipation of potentially large attendee numbers.
Citizens and Greater Napanee town council heard an outline of the privatized retail platform that will grant lottery winners the chance to apply for 25 cannabis retail licences.
CAO Ray Callery spoke about the retail model that will unfold for cannabis storefronts in Ontario this year and encouraged council to consider a number of factors before deciding whether to opt out of allowing cannabis retail stores in the municipality going forward.
Callery said that if the municipality opts in, council must have its input on how cannabis retailers should be regulated in towns and cities across the province ready to submit within 15 days. That input is not legislative but gives the government ideas on what municipalities would like to see, such as separation distance from public or municipal services, churches, parks and more.
Currently, the only separation distance outlined by the AGCO is a 150-metre setback from schools.
Callery asked council to consider not only the opt-in, opt-out question, but also whether the municipality should develop policy to submit to the AGCO to help guide its licensing considerations, whether council wished to invest in specialized mapping of “appropriate locations,” and whether council wanted to explore the costs and resource demand associated with responding to the AGCO in 15 days of opt-in, and enforcement issues that could come along with hosting cannabis retail stores in Greater Napanee.
Whether Napanee chooses to opt in or not, the municipality will not see a cannabis storefront anytime soon, unless the AGCO alters its criteria that state that licensed business owners can only open a store in communities with a population of 50,000 or more.
“That doesn’t mean that if supply increases or there is a change in supply that additional things are [or aren’t] going happen right after that,” Callery said. “There are no timelines.”
If municipal population thresholds change in the future, and Greater Napanee opts in, it could be eligible to split $10,000 from the province’s cannabis revenues with its upper-tier municipal government, Lennox and Addington County.
Callery pointed out that Greater Napanee is currently home to two licensed cannabis production facilities, VIVO Cannabis and Beacon Medical, which could factor into council’s decision.
More than 50 cannabis retail storefronts are located on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, a 10-minute drive from Napanee. That means Napanee residents already have easy access to cannabis products, something that Callery said should be factored into the municipality’s decision to opt in or out.
“They have their own internal regulating body that they’ve established,” Callery said. “It’s neither good nor bad, that’s just the reality of our situation in our community.”
Sarah Tryon, a public health promoter with Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health, spoke to council during the public meeting about the potential risks involved with cannabis storefronts in communities.
“KFL&A will not be providing a recommendation, per se, but we respectfully ask that council include the following considerations from a public health perspective through their deliberations on the issue,” Tryon said.
Tryon pointed out that health care, lost productivity, criminal justice and other costs related to cannabis use from 2007 to 2014 in Ontario was approximately $1.2 million, and that cannabis use in Ontario is responsible for the fourth greatest proportion of costs attributable to substance use.
She also pointed out that physical availability of legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco increase related harms, such as increased consumption, increased normalization and number of traumas.
A handful of local residents provided input to council, most of them in favour of an opt-in decision.
Paul Lansimaki, a retired OPP officer who attended the meeting wearing a VIVO Cannabis T-shirt, spoke about what he felt was the importance of legal access.
“In my career, I can safely say that, in terms of criminality, I dealt with alcohol-related offences one hundredfold more than I did with cannabis-related,” he said. “As a former police officer, I’d like to see law-abiding citizens have a safe location to get something if they’re going to get anything, as opposed to going eight kilometres down the road [to Tyendinaga] and purchasing something that we really know nothing about. We don’t know if it’s safe or not.”
Lansimaki said he now works for VIVO Cannabis, a local licensed producer, but he was speaking strictly as a citizen.
“I think it would be shortsighted for council to opt out at this time,” Lansimaki said. “I think this lends an opportunity to be a responsible town to look after its citizens.”
Others said they wanted to learn more about the province’s plan before opting in.
“I feel uncomfortable at this stage opting in to something that has so many unknowns,” Hans Bichsel, a Napanee resident, said.
Greater Napanee town council held a public meeting on Thursday to discuss whether the municipality would like to opt out of cannabis retail stores. The decision deadline is Jan. 22.