Clock ticking to make local decisions on allowing pot shops

Most councils in Waterloo region have yet to set a date to discuss whether they will opt out of allowing private retail cannabis stores in their community. North Dumfries is scheduled to discuss it on Dec. 10, while it's set to go before Guelph council on Dec. 17.

Most councils waiting to decide whether to opt out of retail cannabis stores

This file photo shows a worker at The Station, a retail and medical cannabis dispensary, in Boulder, Colo. In Ontario, such stores will not be allowed until April 2019 and municipalities have until Jan. 22, 2019 to opt out of allowing the stores in their community. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

As municipal councils prepare to wrap up sessions with outgoing representatives and welcome newly-elected members, there are few meeting dates left for cities or townships to hold discussions ahead of the deadline set by the province to decide whether there should be a government marijuana store in their community.

The provincial government has set a deadline of Jan. 22, 2019 for municipalities to opt out of having a local cannabis retail store.

Thus far, only Guelph and North Dumfries have set dates for the issue to come before council. North Dumfries council will debate the issue on Dec. 10 while Guelph has it scheduled it for Dec. 17.

Guelph is also currently surveying residents about the issue. The online questionnaire is on the city's website, and asks people how they feel about the cannabis retail stores, concerns they may have with the stores and if people think there should be more restrictions on cannabis consumption beyond what's laid out in the Smoke Free Ontario Act.

Currently in Ontario, people who want to purchase pot legally have to do so online through the Ontario Cannabis Store. After the Tories won the provincial election in June, the new Progressive Conservative government scrapped previous plans made by the Liberals to have an LCBO-style setup for pot sales.

A plan for private retail outlets is expected to be announced in April, 2019.

'Collective decision of council'

Most of the mayors CBC Kitchener-Waterloo spoke with aren't revealing their personal thoughts on retail cannabis stores.

Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said he's undecided because two key pieces are missing: "[the] province hasn't tipped all its cards on revenue splitting, nor on location prohibitions, if any."

North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton and Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz had similar responses.

"This is a collective decision of council. I will support council's decision," Foxton said.

"We have not discussed the pros and cons at council yet or made a decision," Shantz said.

Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak said he supports having a retail store in his township "but I doubt we could find a suitable location."

In August, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said he thinks the city should opt in, but it's ultimately a decision of council.

"We should have it available in the community for no other reason other than so we have the ability to have some control around where it might be sold and also have the opportunity to access the enforcement dollars that would be available," Vrbanovic said at the time.

Nunavut and Ontario are the only two provinces or territories that don't currently have cannabis stores. Here, people line up on opening day outside P.E.I. Cannabis Inc., in Charlottetown. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Waiting for province

There are various reasons other cities and townships in Waterloo region haven't yet set dates to debate the issue.

Staff in Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener have been talking to each other about what they might do. Adam Lauder is the executive officer to the CAO with the City of Waterloo. He said the big holdup for the cities is waiting for the province to pass Bill 36, the Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act.

"We understand that the provincial regulation is potentially coming at the end of this month, in November, and once we have an understanding of that, staff will set a firm council date for a public report," Lauder said.

In Wilmot, clerk Dawn Mittelholtz said they're waiting until after the new council is sworn in on Dec. 3. With three new councillors, she said they'll need to be brought up to speed on a number of issues.

Many of the councils take a holiday break in late December until the second week in January, which compresses the decision time down to about seven weeks.


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