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City council to decide on cannabis options

Sixty-three per cent of respondents in favour of opting in

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

City council will soon determine whether the City of Oshawa is in or out of the recreational cannabis game.

A special meeting is set for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. where councillors will decide if private pot shops will be permitted in the city.

Although the final choice is up to council, the majority of residents who responded to public consultation are in favour of the opt-in option.

Of 435 surveys received by the city, 271 residents, or 62.3 per cent, responded yes to the question “Do you support having private recreational cannabis retail stores in our municipality?”

Reasons given for support include convenience, crime reduction, and job creation.

One-hundred fifty-five (35.6 per cent) responded no, while nine responded “unsure.”

Concerns raised in opposition include negative impacts on the city’s image, increased access to cannabis by youth, increased crime and addiction issues, odour problems and negative health impacts.

Staff has presented council with two simple choices: opt-in or opt out.

Should the city opt out, staff notes it does not stop the municipality from changing the decision later or preclude the city from having cannabis production facilities.

Staff adds that opting-out would provide council “the necessary time to establish council-approved locational guidelines for commenting to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario should the city choose to have private recreational cannabis retail stores in the future.”

The biggest con to opting out according to staff would be limiting Oshawa residents’ access to “legal, government-regulated recreational cannabis,” as this “may not support the government’s interest to reduce access to the illegal market, protect youth, and ensure public health and safety.”

If council chooses to opt-in, the city will be eligible to receive potential funding for two years under the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund (OCLIF).

OCLIF will provide funding to municipalities to assist with any costs related to the legalization of recreational cannabis. The province has allocated $40 million towards the fund in total.

The city has received notice of a per household funding allocation of $82,443, to be split with the Region of Durham.

Opting out would guarantee a second payment of $5,000 while opting in would see a payment of more than $5,000, although the exact amount has yet to be determined.

In addition, municipalities that chose to welcome cannabis stores may be able to share in

$10 million set aside in the OCIF for ‘unforeseen circumstances related to the legalization of recreational cannabis.’

If Ontario’s portion of the federal excise tax on recreational cannabis over the first year of legalization exceeds $100 million, the province will provide half of the surplus to municipalities who opted in.

However, it is unclear how much, if any, revenue the City of Oshawa would receive from that potential surplus.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario anticipates the costs to municipalities tied to legal cannabis, such as policing, by-law enforcement, public health, and other services, may exceed funding to be provided by the province.

Staff warned of other potential negatives to opting in.

If council agrees to allow stores, the city will not have the authority to regulate the number of stores or their location.

Secondly, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission is not required to notify local municipalities when applications for retail stores are received.

The public comment period for such applications is only 15-calendar days.

Also, staff advises “it is unclear to what extent municipal and public comment on potential application[s] for private recreational cannabis retail stores will be taken into consideration by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.”

Prior to the legalization of cannabis last October, the Ford government declared legal recreational marijuana would be sold in private retail stores beginning in April 2019.

Online pot sales began shortly after the legalization date of Oct. 18, 2018.

This replaced the original Liberal plan to have weed sold in government-owned stores in the vein of the LCBO.

Ontario municipalities have until Jan. 22 to decide whether they will want stores in their community.

Municipal governments can choose to opt out now and revisit the decision later.

The cities of Markham and Mississauga and the Town of Ingersoll are among municipalities that have chosen to opt out so far.

Those who have opted in include the cities of Ottawa, Guelph, Sarnia, and Sudbury, and the Town of Huntsville.

In Durham Region, only Pickering has made a decision, opting out in December.

There will be only 25 retail stores expected to open beginning April 1, 2019. Six of those will be located in parts of the Greater Toronto Area, not including the City of Toronto itself.

Licences for those stores will be handed out via a lottery scheduled to be held this week, with results expected to be posted on Friday (Jan. 11).

Stores will be allowed to operate seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and must be at least 150 metres (492 feet) away from a school, including private schools, as defined by the province’s Education Act.

Staff has recommended local guidelines be approved to ask the Alcohol and Gaming Commission to consider not allowing stores near locations such as child care centres, libraries, Beer Store and LCBOs, healthcare facilities such as hospitals and mental health and addiction services, and recreation centres. This falls in line with a previous recommendation made by Durham Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Kyle.

Should Oshawa opt-in, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and Durham Regional Police Service will be responsible for inspections and enforcing laws such as underage sales, public consumption and illegal retailers.

The Durham Region Health Department will be responsible for health by-law enforcement including smoking restrictions, public awareness, and provincial court offences.

According to staff, it is unclear “what role, and the extent of the role, municipalities will have as a result of the legalization of recreational cannabis and the potential cost implications.”

Potential tasks for the city’s by-law department could include fire code, building code, and workplace safety policies.

At a recent Durham Region Police Services Board meeting, regional chair John Henry said he would like to see a streamlined by-law regarding recreational cannabis in Durham.

Henry said it would cause too much confusion and stress on police/by-law staff if each lower-tier municipality in Durham had its own set of rules.