Haliburton County council along with the councils of its lower-tier municipalities has opted in to allowing marijuana stores within its boundaries and asked staff to produce a municipal cannabis policy statement.
Cannabis became legal across Canada in October and in Ontario the provincial government is selling marijuana by mail while allowing private retailers to set up physical stores. Those stores will be able to open in April of 2019. Municipalities were given a deadline of Jan. 22 to decide if they wanted to opt out of allowing marijuana stores within their boundaries.
“Really the only way to stop a retail store from setting up shop in your municipality is the opt-out option” said Haliburton County planner Charlsey White during a Dec. 12 county council meeting.
The only setback that has been established by the provincial government is that marijuana retail outlets must be located a minimum of 150 metres from schools. Municipalities can create municipal cannabis policy statements “which could outline other sensitive uses that are in existence within your municipality” White said. These could be facilities such as those for mental health addiction treatment for example.
However ultimately any setbacks or additional regulations are not the purview of municipalities but of the province which is the licensing body.
“It’s not an additional setback but it’s a municipality saying to the province we have concerns about X Y and Z” White said. Retail shops will be able to open as of April 1.
White will create a draft municipal cannabis policy statement; one that will also likely be used by the county’s lower-tier townships. During discussions about the legalization of marijuana it’s been mentioned several times at the county council table that the four townships should take a unified approach and Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said the four townships have been working together through the county’s community policing advisory committee.
“It’s been in the last few months difficult to decipher all of the information” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. Details from the province have been rolled out in a sort of piecemeal fashion and municipal politicians have had numerous questions about funding what level of government would be responsible for enforcement and so on.
“In my mind it’s become clear . . . in terms of control and cost recovery that really the only way is to opt in” Devolin said.
Municipal councils that opt in to allowing marijuana retail stores within their boundaries will receive some provincial funding to assist with associated costs. However with a total of $40 million over two years for 440 municipalities in the province the funding municipal governments do receive will be relatively modest.
A point of consternation for many politicians as well as health units is that the areas where cannabis is allowed to be consumed are taken directly from the Smoke Free Ontario Act which has been used to regulate the smoking of tobacco. Marijuana can legally be consumed anywhere tobacco can legally be consumed despite the fact that marijuana unlike tobacco is a mind-altering substance that can impact people in the vicinity of the smoker.
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy wondered if there was a deadline by which a municipal cannabis policy statement needed to be completed.
“The policy statement is fluid” White responded. “I would recommend writing it now and then it can be updated once we run into some sort of concern.”
Had county council decided to not allow marijuana retail outlets within the county it would have meant the four lower-tier townships would have automatically also opted out.
The following day at a Dec. 13 meeting Minden Hills council opted in to permitting marijuana retail stores in Minden Hills. In the case of Minden the provincial setback means that no marijuana shops could be located along the stretch of Bobcaygeon Road near Archie Stouffer Elementary School. Outside of that planner Ian Clendening told councillors the provincial legislation dictates that municipalities cannot create separate zones for marijuana retail; they can set up in any commercially zoned area.
“You cannot discriminate retail from retail” Clendening said. “This is a retail outlet.”
Devolin told councillors that locally work around policy regarding cannabis was going to be handled at the county level.
“They’re going to help us collectively to do it to apply labour efforts so we don’t have to fully evolve that by ourselves in a silo” he said.
Councillor Bob Carter said it was his understanding that marijuana retail outlets would have a limited scope of permitted wares.
“One of these stores becomes extremely limited in what they are allowed to sell is that correct?” he asked.
“That is correct” said Clendening adding his understanding was that marijuana outlets could basically sell cannabis marijuana paraphernalia and carrying bags.
“If this is the way we’re going to go . . . personally I don’t like it” said Councillor Ron Nesbitt.
Dysart et al Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands councils have also opted in to allowing marijuana retail outlets.