Ottawa

Cities still short on pot shop opt-out details

Deciding whether or not to host private pot shops should be Job 1 for newly elected municipal councils this fall, the Ontario government advised Wednesday.

Municipalities that opt out of province's retail scheme can opt back in, AMO delegates told

Cities will be given a chance to opt out before private retailers start selling marijuana across Ontario in April 2019, but the province hasn't offered many details. (David Horemans/CBC)

Deciding whether or not to host private pot shops should be Job 1 for newly elected municipal councils this fall, the Ontario government advised Wednesday.

The province offered cities a one-time opt-out when it announced its new retail cannabis scheme earlier this month, but was short on details.

At the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Ottawa Wednesday, Nicole Stewart, the Ministry of Finance official leading implementation of the marijuana plan, told delegates the opt-out window for cities will have start and end dates, but those haven't yet been determined.

Stewart also said municipalities that choose to opt out will be allowed to opt back in.

The Progressive Conservative government changed course earlier this month, announcing that recreational cannabis would be sold by private retailers beginning next April, giving cities little more than seven months to figure out their new role in the program.

Stewart assured municipalities that legislation will be tabled in time for this fall's municipal elections.

Bryan Larkin, the head of police chiefs in Ontario, delivered a message of reassurance as the legalization of marijuana looms. Municipal leaders, including Ottawa Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor, say there are still questions that need to be addressed. 1:20

'Are you in or are you out?'

That more or less ensures pot shops will become a hot election issue during the municipal campaign, Coun. Mark Taylor predicted, who chaired Wednesday's panel and is not running for re-election to Ottawa city council.

"I think what we're going to quickly see is a question asked of candidates all across Ontario as they knock on doors: 'Are you in or are you out?'"

It will makes for a difficult first file for councils that may be packed with neophytes, Taylor said.

"If you get a high turnover of council, or you're onboarding a lot of new elected officials who perhaps have never been in the elected world before, there is a very steep learning curve, and moving into a decision like this is very challenging."

More questions than answers

Panel members at the AMO session outlined some of the other gaps municipalities must consider.

For example, how will bylaw officers respond to complaints? And how will public health units respond to a rise in substance abuse?

Cities will need to develop policies for employees found working under the influence of marijuana, and how to handle disposal of the drug, whether it goes down the drain or into the green bin.

"If you start composting that much cannabis, you're going to notice," said Ray Callery, chief administrative officer of the Town of Greater Napanee.

While the chiefs of police of Ontario have their own list of concerns heading toward the legalization of recreational cannabis in October, the past president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, Bryan Larkin offered reassurance.

"Stay calm. There will be no reefer madness on Oct. 17," Larkin told the municipal leaders.

He said police are ready for the arrival of legal recreational cannabis, but still have concerns about the potential for substance abuse among young people.

Larkin also called for heavy regulation, and heavy vetting of potential pot shop proprietors to ensure the businesses aren't being used by organized crime to launder money.