Zorra votes to ‘opt in’ for cannabis retail stores
Decision will provide township with a share if provincial fund and excise tax revenue
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.