Unhappy with new rules for cannabis stores, some councillors want Hamilton to opt out

Several city councillors say they want to opt out of having private cannabis stores in Hamilton, especially given how close they can be to schools.

Of particular concern is how close the private stores can be to schools.

Ontario cities will decide next month whether they want to host cannabis stores. Some Hamilton councillors are against it. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Several city councillors say they want to opt out of having private cannabis stores in Hamilton, especially given how close they can be to schools.

At least four of Hamilton's 15 councillors say they want more control over where pot stores go and are unhappy with key parts of the new provincial guidelines released Wednesday. Under the new guidelines, the shops can't be within 150 metres of schools. Councillors wanted 300 metres.

Unless those changes are made, they say, they don't want private shops in Hamilton at all.

"I'm appalled by the ridiculous minimum of only 150 metres (approximately 450 feet) that a recreational store has to be away from a nearby school with lots of children," said Tom Jackson of Ward 6. The planned setback, he said, is "shameful."

Chad Collins of Ward 5 said the city licenses variety stores because they sell cigarettes. But under the rules the province unveiled Wednesday, it can't license cannabis stores. 

"At this time, I'm in a position to vote against it."

This doesn't bode well for cannabis users who want to buy locally.

The new rules

The newly legal substance is already available online. As for storefront cannabis sales, municipalities can opt out. Right now, it looks like at least some Hamilton councillors are ready to do that. 

City council's planning committee will discuss it Dec. 11.

Here are some highlights of the province's new cannabis store regulations:

  • Cannabis stores will start opening next year, and will be open from  9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Stores must be at least 150 metres from schools, including private and federally-funded First Nation schools off-reserve.
  • Retailers will not be permitted to allow anyone under the age of 19 to enter their stores.
  • Specific instances in which applicants will be denied a licence, including cannabis-related criminal offences.
  • A prohibition of the issuance of a licence to any individual or organization who has an association with organized crime.
  • A requirement that individuals or entities applying for an operator licence demonstrate their tax compliance status to show that they are in good standing with the government.
  • A requirement for all private recreational cannabis retail storefronts to be stand-alone stores only.
  • Applications start on Dec. 17, 2018.

The city wanted to set its own rules around how many cannabis stores can be located in a neighbourhood. Some even wanted city-made rules around the size and appearance of the stores.

Waiting to learn more

Without that, Arlene VanderBeek of Ward 13 said she wants Hamilton to opt out. So does Esther Pauls, Ward 7 councillor-elect.

"Many of the people I spoke to while canvassing were concerned with the large number of cannabis outlets," she said, "and also with their proximity to residential neighbourhoods." 

Not everyone's against it. 

"I'd like to hear the staff report to be more fully informed," said Brad Clark, Ward 9 councillor-elect. And Brenda Johnson, of Ward 11 councillor says allowing private pot stores merits "serious consideration."

Hamilton has a proliferation of marijuana dispensaries, particularly in the lower city. Many closed recently with the promise of being able to legally apply to reopen.

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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