Retail urged for pot
Brockville council should allow the sale of recreational cannabis in the city, but seek input from the public about the idea before making that final, the planning committee recommends.
At its first meeting since the new city council was inaugurated Monday, council’s new planning and operations committee backed a series of recommendations ahead of the January deadline for municipalities to opt out of private pot sales.
They include a recommendation that the city permit private cannabis retail stores, but also that council direct staff “respecting solicitation for public comment on the matter of whether the City of Brockville should ‘Opt- Out.’”
Another recommendation calls for a “municipal cannabis policy statement” that would include guidance on where pot stores could be located and what areas might be considered sensitive.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) currently only provides for a 150metre buffer between cannabis stores and schools, planner Andrew McGinnis told the planning committee Tuesday. A municipal policy statement would allow Brockville to add other sensitive areas, such as shelters, daycare sites or other types of facility.
However, he noted, the AGCO is the final decision-maker on retail cannabis.
While cannabis has been legal since October 17, it is currently only available online from a government site. Private retail cannabis sales are expected to begin next April.
In Ontario, municipalities have until Jan. 22 to decide to opt out of local private pot sales. Unless a municipality opts out explicitly, it is considered to have opted in by default.
If the city does opt out, it can opt in at a future date, but once it opts in, there is no reversing that decision.
Municipalities that opt in stand to get more money from the province in order to deal with the consequences of legal cannabis.
Last month, the provincial government laid out the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund, with a first payment of $15 million spread out among the municipalities in early January. For Brockville, the amount is $27,591.
After the opt-out deadline, the province plans to allocate another $15 million, this time giving a greater share to the municipalities that opt in. If the city opts in, it will get another $27,600.
The money can be spent on such things as increased police, public health and bylaw enforcement, increased paramedic and fire services and an increased volume of inquiries.
Coun. Larry Journal told the planning committee he is not comfortable with the current system allowing the smoking of cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is allowed.
Journal is worried about second-hand cannabis smoke.
“Can we strengthen this cannabis policy to include the prohibiting of cannabis in public places?” Journal asked.
City clerk Sandra MacDonald said the smoking bylaw is governed by the regional health unit.
“We are working with the health unit to make it as restrictive as we can,” she said.
There might be a way to design bylaws that differentiate cannabis from tobacco smoking, but details remain uncertain, city officials said.
The health unit currently has only one staff person to enforce smoking bylaws, said MacDonald.
Coun. Leigh Bursey argued against regulating pot smoking more strictly than tobacco, adding the more restrictive it gets, the costlier it gets to enforce.
“I don’t know why we’d want to reinvent the wheel here,” said Bursey.
On the matter of consultation, city residents would be able to submit opinions in writing on the matter of retail cannabis by Jan. 7, ahead of the opt-out deadline.
The full city council is expected to put the matter to a final vote next Tuesday.