Jim Watson wants cities to have more power over pot stores

Cities need more control over where legal cannabis retailers can set up shop and how many can open in one neighbourhood, said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Provincial rules tabled in September give cities little say on location

Mayor Jim Watson is worried that cities don't have more control over where legalized pot shops can be located under the province's newly tabled legislation. (CBC)

Cities need more control over where legal cannabis retailers can set up shop and how many can open in one neighbourhood, said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

"I'm really concerned about the fact we don't have any ability to control the number or location of pot shops in Ottawa," said Watson on Sunday.

"And I think that was one of the most fundamental beliefs that most municipalities had: that they would have some local control to try to minimize the number in one particular neighhourhood."

The former Liberal government had decided that cannabis retailers would come onto the market slowly, and be run and regulated much like liquor stores are by the LCBO.

But the Progressive Conservative government, elected last June, threw out that plan for one that will give private retailers the power to sell legalized pot starting next April.

The government tabled new cannabis retailing legislation last week

The bill does not put a cap on the number of pot stores that can open in Ontario, nor does it give cities any powers to regulate the location or density of shops.

And it now appears that the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario — the same organization that oversees liquor licences in the province — will be handling the application process for those who want to open a pot retail shop.

The city will be able to write a letter arguing against an individual application.

Mayor to call attorney general

The ability to use zoning bylaws to limit where cannabis shops could be located was the single most important request that municipalities made to the province, including at the most recent meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in August.

The City of Ottawa does have the power to limit the density of some types of businesses, such as strip clubs and payday loans.

It wanted similar powers for cannabis retail shops.

Cannabis will be legal on Oct. 17 and should be available in retail shops in Ontario by next April. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

"I don't want to have 10 pot shops on one block or in one neighbourhood," said Watson, who's running for re-election against 11 candidates.

"I think that's just too many and it doesn't add to the economic well-being of that particular street."

He said municipalities need to have some control over the locations of the shops, especially as they are "the one​s who are going to get stuck enforcing the provincial and federal laws, either [through] bylaw officers or police officers."

Watson said he will be speaking with Attorney General Caroline Mulroney in the coming days to discuss his concerns.

The next council, which will be sworn in at the start of December, will have to vote on whether to opt out of cannabis retail shops by Jan. 22.