Hamilton says province should keep pot shops away from schools, pedestrians and LRT

The city has no say over the locations but has stated its preferences to the province.

The city has no say over the locations but has stated its preferences to the province

Lats month, city council was given an update from the planning and economic development department on the status of proposed recreational cannabis store locations and in the report, staff outlined a list of considerations for the province to take into account. (The Canadian Press)

The city is hoping to keep provincial cannabis stores away from schools, day cares and detox centres and off of busy pedestrian streets.

It also wants to keep them away from the proposed LRT route.

And it thinks former bank buildings would be good places for the province to locate them.

The problem is the city has no formal say over where the shops are located. 

The province is picking the locations, but has met with Hamilton staff to hear its preferences for where the shops should be located. Hamilton's attempts to influence the decision is limited to setting out a series of criteria it wants the province to take into consideration.

Ontario is expected to announce the locations of two to four Hamilton pot stores in the coming weeks. Locations for stores in Kingston, Guelph Thunder Bay and Toronto were announced in recent days and have generated controversy over proximity to schools.

City's wish list

"The list of considerations was provided to the province at their request and they are non-binding," said Joe Gravina, coordinator of business facilitation.

In July, Hamilton will become home to one of the first government-run, stand-alone, cannabis stores.

On the list of locations the city suggested was former banks, because they are secure, usually with ample parking.

"Bank buildings are among several site considerations that were listed," said Gravina.

"Banks are generally one-storey, stand-alone buildings with a store front. They are situated on sites that typically have reasonable parking areas, which align with most of the building requirements set out by the province," 

In July Hamilton will be home to one of the first government-run stand-alone recreational cannabis stores when cannabis is expected to become legal this summer. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Provincial guidelines for the locations include: adhering to municipal zoning by-laws, minimizing proximity to schools, equitable access for consumers within municipalities, and addressing, where present, illegal storefront activity. It also prefers one-storey, stand-alone buildings.

LCBO spokesperson Nicole Laoutaris told CBC News in an email that, "municipalities supported these guidelines and provided input on additional local interests to be considered in the siting process."

Local interests 

The city suggested sites in larger shopping malls.​ And while the sites should be along transit corridors, the city told the province it does not want them along the proposed LRT route.

It also doesn't want them near areas with high degree of walk-by traffic.

While the province guidelines say only that the locations should try to minimize proximity to schools, the city asks for a specific minimum distance of 300 metres from elementary and secondary schools.

It requests the same separation from day cares, parks or open space areas and alcohol and detox centres.

"The city's considerations were mainly related to separation distances and appropriate locational and site considerations. The province's preferences were mainly related to the type and size of building,"  said Gravina.

"There was an effort to identify where these types of building may be located,"

Proximity to schools

The city's 300-metre standard seems low, after controversy last week where Premier Kathleen Wynne was looking at how a decision was made to place one of the stores less than a kilometre from a Toronto school.

The Ontario Public School Boards Association said the site selection process itself isn't clear and that needs to change.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Todd White says it hasn't been part of any discussions yet and it hasn't landed on any of the board's agendas, but says this isn't necessarily unique to other types of businesses.

"It's not unique just to cannabis. There's a lot of products and services that are inappropriate for students," said White.

"To treat it as a one-off is a bit short-sighted because there's a lot of different product and services that are inappropriate or school-aged children."

White says there are other factors besides distance to consider. 

"Whether it's 300 metres or a kilometre, I think there's larger social concerns than simply just distance."

White also thinks the locations should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

No approvals required

The province isn't seeking municipal support or endorsement for the proposed locations but is looking to stay within a city's approved zoning for commercial activity.

Gravina says "the province has indicated it would only be looking at sites that meet the city's official plan and zoning requirements, and in that case, it would be unlikely that any city approvals would be required."

According to the LCBO, when a specific site is identified, a public notice will be posted online at lcbocannabisupdates.com. The public can then submit comments to the site. If a specific address hasn't been identified, people can still provide general comments on a cannabis store in a community.

Under the proposed approach, Ontario will open 40 stores by summer 2018, growing to 80 by 2019, and up to 150 stand-alone cannabis stores by the end of 2020.


Laura Clementson is a producer for CBC's The National. She can be reached at laura.clementson@cbc.ca. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraClementson.

With files from the Canadian Press