Just 10 days left to de­cide on pot sales

The Observer (Sarnia) - - FRONT PAGE - DALE CAR­RUTHERS

It’s a de­ci­sion D-Day for hun­dreds of On­tario mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the first big ques­tion many of their new coun­cils elected last fall will face this year.

Within 10 days, ev­ery place in the prov­ince with its own govern­ment must de­cide whether or not it will al­low le­gal pot stores within its bound­aries.

In some ways, it’s not yet a huge deal. After all, On­tario is al­low­ing only 25 mar­i­juana stores for the en­tire prov­ince — that’s 444 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties — in the first roll­out of le­gal pot shops this spring.

But with recre­ational and medic­i­nal mar­i­juana use in Canada here to stay, and a huge in­dus­try tak­ing shape to cater to it, sit­ting out what’s ex­pected to be­come a much larger mar­ket — likely ex­tend­ing to pot-in­fused food and drink and myr­iad life­style op­tions — brings its own risks.

Turn your nose up at pot, and some­one else — down the road, or across the prov­ince — will lap up the spoils.

More than two dozen cities and towns al­ready have opted out.

That’s a par­tic­u­lar con­cern in South­west­ern On­tario, which is emerg­ing as a ma­jor pot-grow­ing belt.

With just 10 days to go un­til the Jan. 22 dead­line, more than two dozen cities and towns, in­clud­ing at least 10 in South­west­ern On­tario, al­ready have opted out, cit­ing con­cerns about drug abuse, crime and their in­abil­ity to con­trol store lo­ca­tions — the prov­ince sets the rules — through zon­ing.

Many other places are play­ing the 11th-hour wait­ing game, watch­ing what neigh­bours are do­ing, try­ing to get their hands on more in­for­ma­tion and put­ting off de­cid­ing un­til next week be­fore the dead­line or right up to it.

They might be for­given for hold­ing out.

After all, On­tar­i­ans have seen the land­scape for the sale of le­gal weed change dra­mat­i­cally be­tween two pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments in only seven months, from the mo­nop­oly ap­proach of the for­mer Lib­eral govern­ment that wanted to sell pot at a spe­cific num­ber of stores linked to the LCBO, to Doug Ford’s 360 on the file.

His Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives first de­cided to let the pri­vate sec­tor sell cannabis with no lim­its on store num­bers, but now are re­strict­ing tightly the num­ber of stores be­cause of a short­age of prod­uct they blame on the fed­eral govern­ment, which li­censes le­gal pot pro­duc­ers.

Opt­ing out — com­mu­ni­ties that say no can change their minds later, but not the re­verse — and ban­ning le­gal pot shops is a short-sighted move that only will fuel de­mand for black mar­ket mar­i­juana and cost places that say no lost pro­vin­cial fund­ing , some crit­ics warn.

But even as On­tario fi­nally re­veals which would-be sell­ers will get the first 25 lo­ca­tions in the prov­ince, un­der a lot­tery draw whose re­sults were ex­pected by to­day, some civic politi­cians re­main skep­ti­cal of openly al­low­ing sale of drug that was banned for 95 years in Canada un­til the fed­eral Lib­er­als le­gal­ized its recre­ational use last fall.

MIKE HENSEN/POST­MEDIA NEWS

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