12 towns in the northeast opt out of pot shops due to 'fear of the unknown'

The deadline for municipalities to say no to legal cannabis stores has passed and 12 in northeastern Ontario have opted out.

Towns will be able to change their minds on retail marijuana in the future

Twelve of the 92 municipalities in northeastern Ontario have said they don't want a cannabis store in their community, but the province has given them to change their minds in the future. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The deadline for municipalities to say no to legal cannabis stores has passed and 12 of the 92 in the northeast have opted out.

The province had given towns and cities until 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 22 to decide whether or not to welcome marijuana legal dispensaries.

The ten to opt out in northeastern Ontario are:

  • Township of James (Elk Lake)
  • Jocelyn Township, on St. Joseph Island
  • Killarney
  • Matachewan
  • Powassan
  • Sables-Spanish Rivers (Massey, Walford and Webbwood)
  • Temagami
  • Township of Papineau-Cameron, near Mattawa
  • Township of McGarry (Virginiatown and Kearns)
  • Chapleau
  • Baldwin Township (McKerrow)
  • Markstay-Warren 

​Powassan Mayor Peter McIsaac says town council opted out with a tight vote of 3-2, in which he voted in favour of allowing a dispensary.

"I think fear of the unknown is probably a very good way to put it. Nobody knows how it's all going to roll out," he said.

Jocelyn Township Reeve Mark Henderson says the main reason his town opted out was provincial funding.

The government has promised every municipality $10,000 to adjust to the legalization of cannabis, but those cities and towns that opt in will get an unknown amount based on a per household formula.

"We just thought if you can't nail down what it's for, we're not going to take it and be obligated," says the long-time reeve of the community of 200 people on St. Joseph Island.

Henderson says he's noticed little change since pot became legal 98 days ago.

"Personal consumption had just gotten down to a point in the country generally where it was illegal, but you just didn't hear about anybody getting charged for it, not around here anyways," he says.

Other issues 'far more pressing'

In the Township of James, Reeve Terry Fiset says council didn't think cannabis stores would be worth the trouble for the small town of 400.

"For us to have it here and go through all the hoops and paperwork, we're not digging into it. We got other issues that are far more pressing than that right now," he says.

Communities that have opted out, can change their minds on cannabis stores in the future.

It could be a while before the Ontario government opens up retail marijuana for small towns.

The province has restricted the first two pot shops in the north, set to open by April, to the four largest cities: Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and North Bay. 

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to


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