Opt in or out: Council debate on allowing retail cannabis stores set for next week

Hamilton city councillors will debate next week whether to allow private cannabis shops here. And right now, it's hard to tell what the outcome will be.

Some Hamilton councillors oppose the stores, the chamber of commerce wants them

City councillors will debate next week whether to allow legal cannabis stores in Hamilton. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Hamilton city councillors will debate next week whether to allow private cannabis shops here.

And right now, it's hard to tell what the outcome will be.

The debate on whether or not to be a "host city" for legal cannabis retailers comes with with some councillors already vocal about saying no, but with the community's leading business groups urging it to take advantage of the economic opportunity. 

City council's general issues committee will hold a special meeting on the issue Dec. 18.

Some councillors say they're not interested in pot shops. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 will push for a vote to opt out, at least until Hamilton gets a larger share of the province's profits.

City staff, meanwhile, say Hamilton should host the stores. Either way, Hamilton will get $574,493 to handle legalization, says a staff report, but opting in could line it up for more. If the federal excise tax brings in more than $100 million to the province in the first two years of legalization, the province will give half of that overflow to municipalities with cannabis stores. 

Here's how the city will spend the first phase:

  • $93,000 for one new public health enforcement officer.
  • $20,000 to do health promotion.
  • $220,000 for two new municipal law enforcement officers.
  • $26,000 in one-time money for a vehicle for them.

Merulla's motion implies the city should get more.

The province will bring in "significant" revenue from cannabis, Merulla's motion says. There is "a lack of sustainable revenue sharing from the Province of Ontario related to the retail sale of cannabis."

Some councillors have other concerns, including how close the stores can be to schools.

Britney Guerra, former owner of a Cannabis Culture shop in Hamilton, will be among the speakers at city hall next week. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The province's guideline of 150 metres is "ridiculous," Tom Jackson of Ward 6 (east Mountain) said last month. He, like his fellow councillors, wanted a 300-metre setback.

Brad Clark of Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek), however, said hosting cannabis stores merits "serious consideration."

The staff report recommends asking the province for more control over where cannabis stores are located. It also recommends giving Ken Leendertse, the city's director of licensing and a former deputy police chief, the authority to grant licences.

Council has until Jan. 22 to decide if it wants to opt out. At least two current and former dispensary owners will speak at next week's meeting.

So will Keanin Loomis, president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. The chamber supports hosting legal cannabis stores, he said.

"The cannabis industry is now a legal form of agriculture and commerce that is already contributing to the further diversification of our economy," he wrote.

"It would be a missed opportunity to disallow legitimate brick and mortar retail businesses that are looking to contribute to the local economy."

Clayton McCann, a PhD student in McMaster University's anthropology department, will talk about the impact of illicit cannabis dispensaries on the people who work there, particularly when they're charged by police.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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