Zorra votes to ‘opt in’ for cannabis re­tail stores

De­ci­sion will pro­vide town­ship with a share if pro­vin­cial fund and ex­cise tax rev­enue

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - FRONT PAGE - CHRIS AB­BOTT

Zorra Town­ship’s de­ci­sion to “opt in” and al­low cannabis re­tail stores in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity

“Coun­cil de­lib­er­ated on an ex­cel­lent re­port from staff that weighed up all the con­cerns,” said Zorra Town­ship Mayor Mar­cus Ryan, “be­cause, frankly, coun­cil shared all the con­cerns that were ex­pressed by many peo­ple in the com­mu­nity ... had the same con­cerns of many com­mu­ni­ties that opted out. … It was not a sim­ple de­ci­sion.”

It was not a recorded vote at the mid-De­ce­me­ber meet­ing but was unof­fi­cially unan­i­mous, Ryan said. “What it means is that we have con­fi­dence in the re­port from our staff and their abil­ity to write ap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to reg­u­late. It means that we have ac­cess to money from the prov­ince to fund that ap­pro­pri­ate bylaw reg­u­la­tion and en­force­ment.”

Pro­vin­cial fund­ing will not be avail­able to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that opt out, Ryan noted, but he felt the fund­ing was not a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion in the de­ci­sion.

“That was a con­sid­er­a­tion at coun­cil but, in my opin­ion, it was not a huge fac­tor in the de­ci­sion. The char­ac­ter of de­bate at coun­cil was, ‘Do we think we can ad­dress the con­cerns that res­i­dents have raised with us, the con­cerns that we have as coun­cil mem­bers, about this be­com­ing le­gal? The feel­ing, based on the re­port from staff, was that we could ad­dress those things.”

Feed­back from the com­mu­nity, said Ryan, was largely: This is the way the fu­ture is go­ing to be, so get on with the busi­ness of it.”

“A lot of the feed­back that we got from peo­ple who were op­posed to it, the na­ture of their con­cern was they wish that it wasn’t le­gal. But that’s not the de­ci­sion our coun­cil was mak­ing. The cli­mate that our coun­cil was mak­ing the de­ci­sion was, ‘This is le­gal now in Canada,’ and this is the frame­work that the Prov­ince of On­tario has de­cided to roll it out in.

“And do we feel that Zorra, as a mu­nic­i­pal­ity, would be bet­ter off ‘opt­ing in’ at this time, un­der these cir­cum­stances, or opt­ing out? And then the dis­cus­sion was ‘if we opt out, what then?’”

With the con­trols in place to do opt-in now, and some fund­ing to make it more fea­si­ble, the de­ci­sion was made. As with many de­ci­sions, said Ryan, it was not a “slam dunk” but based on the ev­i­dence – and the staff re­port – Coun­cil de­cided it was bet­ter to “opt in” and “get on with the way things are go­ing to end up in the end any­way.”

By opt­ing in, Zorra Town­ship was re­ceive a por­tion of On­tario’s $40-mil­lion Cannabis Le­gal­iza­tion Im­ple­men­ta­tion Fund and a slice of rev­enue from cannabis ex­cise tax­a­tion. On­tario mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties will share fifty per cent of any sur­plus of more than $100 mil­lion of the ex­cise tax in the first two years of sales. Fol­low­ing reg­u­la­tions pro­vided by the prov­ince, as out­lined in the staff re­port, there will be three ex­clu­sion zones around the ele­men­tary schools in Zorra - Thame­ford Pub­lic School in Thames­ford, Zorra High­land Park in Brooks­dale (north of Em­bro) and A.J. Baker in Kin­tore.

Now that coun­cil has opted in, Zorra staff is de­vel­op­ing a mu­nic­i­pal cannabis re­tail pol­icy that fol­lows pro­vin­cial reg­u­la­tions.

“They are work­ing on that now,” said Ryan. “I would ex­pect in the next two or three months, we will have it in place. Just my opin­ion, I don’t think there is a rush be­cause the prov­ince has said there’s a lot­tery sys­tem.”

A re­ported na­tional short­age of cannabis led the gov­ern­ment to an­nounce last month it will only is­sue an ini­tial 25 li­cences across the prov­ince be­tween April and De­cem­ber. As those li­censes will be dis­trib­uted through a lot­tery sys­tem fo­cused on mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with pop­u­la­tions greater than 50,000, Zorra Town­ship will likely have at least a year to pre­pare be­fore cannabis re­tail­ers can set up shop in town. “Un­der the prov­ince’s cur­rent plan, it’s just not go­ing to be rel­e­vant for mu­nic­i­pal­ity the size of Zorra – just over 8,000 peo­ple. Even if we had a lineup of po­ten­tial re­tail peo­ple, they’re not el­i­gi­ble un­der the way the prov­ince is rolling this out right now.”

But when the prov­ince is ready to give out a li­cence to a re­tailer in Zorra Town­ship, and it comes to coun­cil, Ryan said they will be ready.

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