Some small Ontario towns are opting out of retail pot 'until the brownies are done'

Federal and provincial cannabis laws are so half-baked, some town councils in Ontario have decided that it would be most pragmatic, to "wait until the brownies are done."

Mayors say half-baked policies at a provincial and federal level have them opting out for now

A home-grown cannabis plant that is ready for harvesting. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Some of Ontario's smaller communities say they're taking a wait-and-see approach to private retail pot, with some choosing to opt out early because they say federal and provincial cannabis policies are still half-baked. 

Ontario's pot regulations state that, until the province grants more than 25 retail permits, a private retail pot store can't be located in a municipality smaller than 50,000 people amid a nationwide shortage of cannabis products. 

Communities that wish to opt out of private retail pot have a one-time opportunity to do so before January 22. After that, municipalities that opted out can change their mind at any time, but once they're in, they can no longer opt out. 

'Wait until the brownies are done'

Ted Comiskey is the Mayor of Ingersoll, a town of about 13,000 people 20 minutes east of London.

Ted Comiskey, who is the Mayor of Ingersoll, a town of about 13,000 people 20 minutes east of London, said Tuesday that his community chose to opt out because federal and provincial cannabis laws are so half-baked, council decided it would be most pragmatic, to "wait until the brownies are done." 

"There's so many things up in the air," he said. "Where [pot stores] can be and where they can't be, whether you can start a business out of your own home, how close they could be to a school."

"Council had so many questions," he said. "So, what we thought was that right now, until they get everything smoothed out, there was no real pressure on us to have to do it." 

Comiskey adds that his community's proximity to the larger centres of Woodstock and London means that if anyone really wants cannabis, they could always drive 20 minutes to the nearest store in one of those communities. 

Even then, he said, it really isn't on the public's mind. 

"We've had no one coming to town hall saying 'look we really want you guys to do this,'" he said. "Maybe that's taboo still? Maybe down the road when it becomes such a norm, then maybe it would be easier for the town to say yes." 

'Growing pains'

Mark Peterson is the Mayor of Blandford-Blenheim, a rural community 30 minutes south of Kitchener, Ont. (Blandford-Blenheim Township)

Similar logic went into a decision to opt out of retail pot by the Township of Blandford-Blenheim, a mostly rural community of about 7,000 sandwiched between Woodstock and Kitchener.

"We thought that by opting out, this would allow the larger municipalities to establish proper procedures and policies to go with it," said Blandford-Blenheim Mayor Mark Peterson. 

Peterson said council felt that with the limited resources that comes from being a smaller community, there isn't much room for his community to conduct large scale research or experiment with public policy. 

"It seems like the rules are changing dramatically all the time and we're kind of wondering 'has it really been put forth properly?' and 'is it being pushed through a little bit too fast?'" 

Peterson said any new program or policy usually comes with growing pains and by letting larger municipalities deal with it first, smaller communities can safely sit on the sidelines.

"If these growing pains disappear, then who knows, maybe down the road, but I don't believe this council in this four-year term would opt back in anyway." 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca