Municipalities mull banning pot shops
Cannabis consultants say that will just drive the stores, and their clients, to communities’ borders THESTAR. COM/ CANNABIS
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.”
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.