Cannabis co­nun­drum

Corn­wall must de­cide on whether to al­low sales, even with­out avail­able li­cences

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FRONT PAGE - ALAN S. HALE

With the dead­line to opt out less than two weeks away, city coun­cil is fi­nally meet­ing on Thurs­day to de­bate whether Corn­wall should al­low recre­ational cannabis stores in­side city lim­its.

So far, South Glen­garry and South Stor­mont have al­ready opted into hav­ing the stores, which means even if Corn­wall were to opt out, some­one could open a store to ser­vice Corn­wall cus­tomers just out­side city lim­its, on Bound­ary Road or Corn­wall Cen­tre Road — pro­vided they can get a li­cence.

Re­gard­less of city coun­cil’s de­ci­sion Thurs­day, no one in the Corn­wall area is get­ting one of those li­cences any­time soon. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has de­cided to dis­trib­ute the ini­tial re­tail li­cences by lot­tery. Ap­pli­ca­tions for the lot­tery opened ear­lier this week, but the gov­ern­ment is only ac­cept­ing them from busi­nesses within mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of at least 50,000 peo­ple.

This puts any en­trepreneurs in­side Corn­wall out of the run­ning for the first wave of stores that will open on April 1.

“The gov­ern­ment has not pro­vided a ra­tio­nale for that rule, but it does mean that there is only a small amount of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the prov­ince that will be able to host stores. Even less when you con­sider sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have al­ready de­cided to opt out,” ex­plained David Phillips, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the On­tario Cannabis Store and an ex­ec­u­tive at the Al­co­hol and Gam­ing Com­mis­sion of On­tario, who now works for the cri­sis pub­lic re­la­tions firm, Nav­i­ga­tor.

There is also no way to know for sure there if will be cannabis near Corn­wall at all this spring. The gov­ern­ment plans to is­sue just five li­cences to east­ern On­tario us­ing the LCBO’s def­i­ni­tion of the re­gion, which in­cludes ci­ties like Ot­tawa and Kingston. Phillips said re­sults are in­tended to be com­pletely random, so it’s within the realm of pos­si­bil­ity there wouldn’t even be a store in nearby Ot­tawa.

“East­ern On­tario is a bit of a strange con­struct, be­cause it ex­tends into what many peo­ple would con­sider North­ern On­tario,” said Phillips. “The lot­tery process will be com­pletely random. There’s been some cus­tom-built soft­ware to ad­min­is­ter the lot­tery and they brought (con­sult­ing firm) KPMG to serve as the mon­i­tor to make sure that it is random.

“In terms of how it will play out, I think it will be a mad dash for those who do win those 25 li­cences. Two-and-a-half months is not a lot of time to open a busi­ness. It will be a race against time to get the doors open.”

Ahead of the de­bate set for Thurs­day af­ter­noon, city ad­min­is­tra­tors have given city coun­cil an ex­haus­tive re­port about all the de­tails and im­pli­ca­tions of the de­ci­sion.

If coun­cil de­cides to al­low stores, ad­min­is­tra­tors are rec­om­mend­ing coun­cil should also adopt a pol­icy state­ment which would out­line any spe­cific com­mu­nity con­cerns or pref­er­ences when al­co­hol and Gam­ing Com­mis­sion of on­tario (aGCo) even­tu­ally starts as­sess­ing li­cence ap­pli­ca­tions for stores in­side Corn­wall.

when that does be­gin, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the pub­lic would be given a 15-day pe­riod to re­view the ap­pli­ca­tion and pro­vide com­ment. The prov­ince ex­pects the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to fo­cus its own com­ments to whether the store’s lo­ca­tion is in the pub­lic in­ter­est with re­gards to pub­lic health and safety, pro­tect­ing youth and end­ing il­le­gal sales of cannabis.

hav­ing a pol­icy state­ment in place out­lin­ing where cannabis stores could be lo­cated or should be kept away from would give di­rec­tion on what to say when­ever a new li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion comes in.

“set­ting out these sen­si­tive uses would spec­ify the ex­pec­ta­tions of the com­mu­nity as cannabis re­tail sites are pro­posed. how­ever, care needs to be taken so that this state­ment would not pro­hibit any cannabis re­tail store from lo­cat­ing in a mu­nic­i­pal­ity,” reads the re­port.

aGCo is not re­quired to act on the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s com­ments, how­ever, and the prov­ince would not al­low the city to at­tempt to con­trol the lo­ca­tion of the stores by pass­ing zon­ing by­laws that would pro­hibit cannabis sales.

ac­cord­ing to leg­is­la­tion, the stores can be lo­cated on sev­eral dif­fer­ent kinds of com­mer­cially zoned land as long as they are at least 150 me­tres away from any school. The re­port in­cludes a map of where these ar­eas are and shows a cannabis store could be opened through much of down­town and up Pitt street, along Brook­dale av­enue, the Cot­ton Mills, le Vil­lage, Corn­wall square, and the malls on se­cond street east.

although the city would be un­able to con­trol cannabis re­tail stores through the use of zon­ing by­laws, there are other busi­nesses that may – or al­ready have – start pop­ping up in Corn­wall due to le­gal­iza­tion such as pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing, and re­search that may re­quire a zon­ing bylaw from the city. The city al­ready tweaked its land-use rules to al­low for fa­cil­i­ties that pro­duce med­i­cal mar­i­juana, though none has yet been granted a li­cence to be­gin pro­duc­tion from health Canada.

other as­pects to weigh go­ing into the de­ci­sion to opt in or out are the po­ten­tial eco­nomic and so­cial im­pacts. The re­port to coun­cil notes al­low­ing stores in Corn­wall would cre­ate jobs and be­cause there is an ob­vi­ous de­mand for recre­ational pot, it would keep res­i­dents shop­ping lo­cally, rather than head­ing to sto­ries in places like ot­tawa.

aGCo has al­ready set out op­er­at­ing stan­dards for the store premises, se­cu­rity, record keep­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing, but the Corn­wall po­lice are rec­om­mend­ing coun­cil back these up by­pass­ing a by law re­quir­ing strict ad­her­ence to those stan­dards.

Be­cause Corn­wall will not be part of the first round of store open­ings, the po­lice de­part­ment in­tends to fo­cus its ef­forts to pre­vent sales to mi­nors, stoned driv­ing and smug­gling cannabis by boat across the river.

The re­port also in­cludes con­cerns from the city’s recre­ation de­part­ment about the prob­a­bil­ity peo­ple would smoke cannabis in lo­cal parks. leg­is­la­tion cur­rently places smok­ing cannabis un­der the same re­stric­tions as cig­a­rettes: nine me­tres away from pub­lic build­ing en­trances and 20 me­tres from chil­dren’s play struc­tures. The de­part­ment notes kids do not play just on park play­grounds.

“Chil­dren com­monly en­gage in play ac­tiv­i­ties through­out our park spa­ces and there­fore could be ex­posed to se­cond-hand cannabis smoke out­side of these re­stricted ar­eas. also, we ex­pect that many of the par­ents of the chil­dren who ac­cess our park spa­ces will ob­ject to any per­mit­ted use of cannabis within prox­im­ity to their chil­dren,” reads the re­port.

It will be a lotto take in and dis­cuss, but Mayor Ber­nadette Cle­ment says she is ea­ger to dig into the is­sues on Thurs­day even­ing.

“Cannabis is a file that’s evolv­ing, so it can be hard to keep track of all the in­for­ma­tion. But what we want to do is to make sure that coun­cil has good back­ground in­for­ma­tion be­cause we will have to make a de­ci­sion be­fore Jan. 22,” said the mayor. “I can’t say whether we will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on Thurs­day, be­cause that will de­pend on what the coun­cil wants to do.

“If they need more in­for­ma­tion, there is still some time to get that and make a de­ci­sion on Jan. 14.” [email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/alan_s_hale

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