Wellesley opts in to prov­ince’s new frame­work for cannabis re­tail stores

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the re­gion work­ing on a com­mon front to deal with new leg­is­la­tion

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - VERON­ICA REINER

WHILE WELLESLEY IS UN­LIKELY to see any pot dis­pen­saries in the fore­see­able fu­ture, the town­ship will opt-in to the prov­ince’s new plan for re­tail cannabis shops. The de­ci­sion by Wellesley coun­cil Tues­day night is part of a regionwide strat­egy to deal with the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana and the new Cannabis Li­cence Act. Wool­wich is ex­pected to deal with the is­sue at a coun­cil meet­ing Jan­uary 15. Un­der the pro­vin­cial guide­lines, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have un­til Jan­uary 22 to opt-in (per­mit) or opt-out (pro­hibit) re­gard­ing the in­clu­sion of cannabis stores, with 25 lo­ca­tions across On­tario slated for re­tail out­lets, seven of which are to be al­lot­ted for the west­ern part of the prov­ince. In what is de­scribed as a “cannabis lot­tery,” the first round of ap­pli­cants to be given li­censes will be picked ran­domly on Fri­day.

The prov­ince is look­ing for the first pri­vate cannabis re­tail out­lets to open April 1.

In mak­ing a de­ci­sion this week, Wellesley coun­cil­lors got the ad­vice of Water­loo Re­gional Po­lice chief Bryan Larkin, who rec­om­mended that the town­ship opt-in.

“We’ve al­ways sup­ported reg­u­lated con­trol and reg­u­lated sales,” said Larkin. “And re­tails stores, as well as what they bring to a com­mu­nity. Be­cause we also have to move past the moral­ity or the in­di­vid­u­al­ity per­spec­tive around cannabis – it’s le­gal. It’s very sim­i­lar to al­co­hol, and gam­bling, etc. But reg­u­lated con­trol and reg­u­lated sales en­sure that there’s a pro­tec­tion.”

The re­gion has co­or­di­nated ef­forts among the

seven lower-tier mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to avoid a patch­work sit­u­a­tion where some ar­eas ban the stores while oth­ers al­low it. Opt­ing in al­lows the po­lice to fo­cus on other drug-re­lated is­sues while com­bat­ing the grey mar­ket and il­le­gal dis­pen­saries, said Larkin.

“It also al­lows the po­lice ser­vice to fo­cus on, quite frankly, more im­por­tant sale and traf­fic in il­licit drugs. I don’t think it’s any se­cret that we con­tinue to face a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge with opi­oids across our re­gion. Par­tic­u­larly in the ur­ban cen­tres, but the town­ships are not im­mune to the chal­lenges of opi­oids.”

It is highly un­likely that Wellesley will be one of the lo­ca­tions se­lected for a re­tail store, given its com­pa­ra­bly smaller size, but Mayor Joe Nowak was sup­port­ive of the move­ment to opt-in.

“We don’t have these le­gal dis­pen­saries, but we’ve had a num­ber of grow-ops in our com­mu­nity over the past five to ten years – there are three that I can think of,” said Nowak, not­ing that opt­ing out would force grow­ers out of the town­ship. “They’re not go­ing to be prof­itable then.

“I think the like­li­hood of Town­ship of Wellesley get­ting a dis­pen­sary store in the next 5-10 is pretty slim.”

The Al­co­hol and Gam­ing Com­mis­sion of On­tario will reg­u­late these out­lets. While the fi­nal de­ci­sion was met with no con­tention from coun­cil, Kitch­ener-Con­estoga MP Harold Al­brecht is vo­cal about his op­po­si­tion on the topic.

“It is my sin­cere hope that in the in­ter­est of the well-be­ing of our youth and the health of our com­mu­ni­ties in Kitch­ener Con­estoga, that all our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties will re­ject the idea of re­tail out­lets,” said Al­brecht in an email to the Ob­server. “It is too early to mea­sure the im­pact on in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties; how­ever, the long term neg­a­tive im­pacts will be re­al­ized in terms of pub­lic safety on our roads and in our work­places.”

Road safety is a con­cern, with no re­li­able way to test if a driver is im­paired from mar­i­juana. To check if a driver is im­paired, the po­lice force must use drug recog­ni­tion ex­perts which is a size­able fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tion, he ar­gued.

“I’ve heard from sev­eral po­lice of­fi­cers from our re­gion and through­out Canada that they do not feel they have ad­e­quate re­sources to keep Cana­di­ans safe on the roads,” said Al­brecht.

The prov­ince has al­lo­cated a min­i­mum of $40 mil­lion to be dis­trib­uted to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties through­out the next two years to aid in the tran­si­tion of rolling out these re­tail stores. In early Jan­uary, the first pay­ment of $15 mil­lion will be dis­trib­uted by the Min­istry of Fi­nance on a per-house­hold ba­sis. The Town­ship of Wellesley is slated to re­ceive $5,000 in the first in­stal­ment, while a se­cond pay­ment will be dis­trib­uted fol­low­ing the Jan­uary 22 dead­line.

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