Prescott opts in for pot
Councillors have no illusions about their chances in cannabis lottery
PRESCOTT – The town has voted to join the growing list of Leeds and Grenville municipalities permitting retail cannabis stores in their community.
But the ontario government’s decision initially to limit the number of pot shops to only five in all of eastern ontario means that Prescott, or indeed any municipality in the counties, is unlikely to see a store anytime soon.
Citing shortages of cannabis that it blames on the federal government, the provincial government has decided to allow only 25 retail pot stores to open on April 1, instead of the free-market system it advocated during the election campaign. eastern ontario will get five of those stores to serve an area stretching from the Quebec border to the Muskokas, including the cities of ottawa, kingston, Brockville, Cornwall, Peterborough and Belleville.
Whether or not Leeds and Grenville communities will get any of those retail stores is literally the luck of the draw. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of ontario began collecting applications for retail cannabis licences on Monday and the process was to close at noon on Wednesday, althought that deadline was extended to later in the day.
The commission will choose the lucky 25 retailers by lottery on Friday and post the results this weekend.
under the government’s rules, a municipality must have a population of at least 50,000 before it can qualify for a pot shop, meaning that local municipalities would have to qualify under the umbrella of the united Counties of Leeds and Grenville, which has a population of a little over 100,000.
Despite announcing Friday ’s lottery to determine which retailers will get the first 25 licences, the ontario government has given municipalities until Jan. 22 to ban retail pot.
on Monday, Prescott council voted unanimously to permit retail cannabis with several councillors acknowledging that the 4,500-population town is unlikely to be among the five eastern ontario communities to get a retail store in the initial lottery round.
Coun. Lee McConnell noted that cannabis sales, like alcohol, are now legal in Canada and there is little sense in Prescott declaring itself “dry or smoke-free.”
Mayor Brett Todd noted that online sales are legal, regardless of what the town does with retail stores. So Prescott residents could pick up their pot at the post office in the centre of town even if there were no retail stores, he said.
Todd said the country once viewed the impending legalization of cannabis with a sense of panic, but the sky hasn’t fallen since late october when it became legal.
“We can’t stick our heads in the sand on this,” said Todd, echoing the words of Coun. Teresa Jansman. Todd added that he hadn’t heard of any local municipalities deciding to opt out.
In announcing the 25-store cap and the lottery, Attorney- General Caroline Mulroney and Finance Minister vic Fedeli last month blamed the federal government.
“It is the federal government’s responsibility to oversee cannabis production and to provide a viable alternative to the illegal market by ensuring there is sufficient supply to meet consumer demand,” the ministers said. “Yet, we continue to see severe supply shortages across the country in legal, licensed recreational cannabis stores.”
The ministers said the pot shortage is not limited to ontario. Alberta stopped issuing new cannabis licences after only receiving 20 per cent of the stock it ordered from licensed producers, and retail operating hours in Quebec have been reduced to four days a week.
“This is a national issue that demands an immediate response from Justin Trudeau and the federal government,” they said.
The licence lottery is only temporary until the federal government ensures a reliable supply of pot, the ministers said.