The case for opting out
Not long after Canada became the second country to legalize recreational cannabis use, some politicians started vowing to ban legal pot shops.
Already, more than 24 Ontario municipalities have notified the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the province’s pot regulator, that they’re barring marijuana retailers after their civic councils approved doing so.
The move by those municipalities, which represent just a fraction of Ontario’s more than 400, can be reversed at any time.
In Blandford-Blenheim, a township northeast of Woodstock with fewer than 8,000 residents, politicians unanimously supported opting out of hosting dispensaries.
“We thought we’d let the big cities and the other areas go through the growing pains,” Mayor Mark Peterson said, adding residents can drive elsewhere — possibly to nearby Woodstock or KitchenerWaterloo, depending where the first stores roll out — to visit a pot retailer.
Council is unlikely to reverse its decision to opt out, a move that cost the township $5,000 in provincial funding, Peterson said.
“It’s not worth it for us, for that kind of money,” he said of the uncertainties cannabis retailing may bring.
A key concerns raised by communities in favour of opting out is the lack of control they have over zoning of dispensaries. The AGCO will ultimately approve where dispensaries open and only require the stores be at least 150 metres from schools and meet physical security requirements.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens wants his city to say no to pot shops, at least for now.
“Frankly, I don’t believe the regulations go far enough to protect existing businesses and other agencies that are operating in the city,” Dilkens said, noting the 150metre buffer rule for schools also should apply to day cares and mental health treatment facilities.
“Now that we’re only going to have 25 stores in the province . . . there’s really no risk to opt out,” he said.
There’s especially strong opposition to marijuana retailers in Essex County, where Tecumseh, Lakeshore and LaSalle have banned the businesses.
Windsor politicians will vote on the issue Jan. 21. If the border city does opt out, it would be the largest municipality outside the Greater Toronto Area to do so.
Dilkens highlighted problems he saw during a 2016 trip to Denver, Colo., where pot shops have operated since the state became the first in the United States to legalize recreational cannabis in 2014.
“The troubling part was the type of activity that happened outside (dispensaries),” he said, citing behaviour such as loitering and panhandling. “Stuff that would make many people uncomfortable.”
“I know there will be some issues depending on where a cannabis retail shop is placed, certain ones will have more issues than others,” Dilkens said.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario, an umbrella group for municipalities, says it’s staying neutral on the issue, urging its members to voice their concerns about zoning issues to the AGCO by drafting policy statements.