Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties mull ban­ning pot shops

Cannabis con­sul­tants say that will just drive the stores, and their clients, to com­mu­ni­ties’ bor­ders THES­TAR. COM/ CANNABIS

StarMetro Toronto - - COVER STORY - Joseph Hall

Aside from cannabis stores be­ing at least 150 me­tres away from any school, it’s hard to pre­dict where they will pop up when they be­gin to open across On­tario come April.

But it’s a good bet they might be chock­ablock along the south side of Stee­les Ave. at the top of Toronto, if some prominent politi­cians in Rich­mond Hill and Markham to the north get their way.

Those are two of at least five mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the prov­ince that may vote to ban the brickand-mor­tar pot shops be­fore the Jan. 22 opt-out dead­line set by Queen’s Park.

The re­fusal, which is also be­ing ex­plored in Oakville, King Town­ship and East Gwillim­bury, makes lit­tle sense to many cannabis in­dus­try ex­perts.

“The shops will just open along the bor­ders of those mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, I’m 100 per cent cer­tain,” says Rod El­liot, a se­nior vice- pres­i­dent with Toronto’s Global Pub­lic Af­fairs con­sult­ing group. “And those shops will end up be­ing twice as busy.”

El­liot says “dry com­mu­ni­ties” in U.S. states that have le­gal­ized recre­ational cannabis have seen stores load up along their bound­aries.

“Those stores are some of the most prof­itable in the United States,” he says.

Lawyer Matt Mau­rer, a cannabis in­dus­try ex­pert with Toronto’s Torkin Manes LLP, also says bor­der stores abut­ting opt-out mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties will al­most cer­tainly pop up.

“If Oakville opts out … does that mean ev­ery­one is go­ing to or­der on­line?” Mau­rer says. “Prob­a­bly not. They’re go­ing to go to Mis­sis­sauga or Burling­ton.”

A mu­nic­i­pal­ity wish­ing to opt out of host­ing stores must get a ma­jor­ity of its coun­cil­lors to sign off on the move, as part of a one- HOW DIF­FER­ENT CITIES WOULD VOTE AT time-only of­fer from the prov­ince. Opted-out towns and cities can opt back in with a sim­i­lar coun­cil vote in the fu­ture, but those wel­com­ing the stores ini­tially can’t kick them out later.

El­liot says com­mu­ni­ties con­sid­er­ing the ban are do­ing so out of mis­guided fears — es­pe­cially about prox­im­ity to schools.

“This is more of a moral panic than an ev­i­dence- based ap­proach,” El­liot says. “Op­ti­cally, they don’t like the idea that stores could be near schools.”

But pro­vin­cial rules set in place for shop own­ers — and the le­gal and fi­nan­cial penal­ties they face — make sales to peo­ple un­der 19 highly un­likely, El­liot says.

“The ev­i­dence would show that a cus­tomer … is go­ing to be

re­quired to show gov­ern­ment-is­sued ID when they en­ter the store and gov­ern­ment-is­sued ID at the point of sale,” he says.

El­liot says pro­vin­cial reg­u­la­tions would strip li­cences, worth hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars, from any re­tailer sell­ing to mi­nors, while fed­eral laws could im­pose prison terms of up to 14

years on of­fend­ing re­tail­ers.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti says opt­ing out has re­ceived broad sup­port in his com­mu­nity.

His pre­vi­ous coun­cil voted for a res­o­lu­tion say­ing Markham didn’t want the stores when the then- Lib­eral gov­ern­ment at Queen’s Park ap­proached the city. He says enough of that coun- cil sur­vived the re­cent elec­tion to vote them down again.

“I’m go­ing to be vot­ing the same way, that we opt out, and I think the ma­jor­ity of coun­cil will as well,” Scarpitti says, ad­mit­ting that some in the city are an­gry with the de­ci­sions.

And Scarpitti says his con­stituents were not as concerned with bor­der stores as much as with how the pot shops might mar the face of Markham it­self.

“We cer­tainly heard a lot of con­cerns ... Are they go­ing to be next to my gro­cery store? What kind of sig­nage are they go­ing to have? What kind of mar­ket­ing are they go­ing to be per­mit­ted?” he says. “If they are on the other side of Stee­les, I guess they’re on the other side of Stee­les.”

STEVE SOMERVILLE/METROLAND

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, just elected to his fourth term, says the pre­vi­ous coun­cil op­posed phys­i­cal pot stores, and many of those mem­bers were re-elected, so they are likely to vote the same way.

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