Council votes to allow legal pot shops in Toronto — but wants more power to decide where they go

Toronto's city council has voted to allow legal pot shops, while calling on the province to grant the city more power to regulate where they are located.

Mayor John Tory says not allowing the stores would take city back to 'wild west'

Toronto's city council has voted to allow legal pot shops, while calling on the province to grant the city more power to regulate where they are located. (David Horemans/CBC)

Toronto's city council has voted to allow legal pot shops, while calling on the province to grant the city more power to regulate where they are located.

Following a lengthy debate, Mayor John Tory and a majority of councillors — with the exception of John Filion, Cynthia Lai, Josh Matlow and James Pasternak — backed a city staff recommendation to not opt-out of provincially-licensed cannabis retail stores.

The vote comes the same week both Markham and Mississauga opted out, while Ottawa voted to allow the stores.

The move followed a staff report saying doing the opposite "would have the unintended consequence of encouraging the illegal market."

At Thursday's meeting, medical officer of health Eileen De Villa stressed that allowing legal shops is the best decision from a public health perspective — if there are conditions in place to limit the number of stores near schools and other sensitive locations, limit the hours of sale, and to ensure there is monitoring in place.

"Based on the science, it would best to have a government-run and operated retail mechanism," she told council.

The provincial government is giving municipalities until Jan. 22, 2019 to opt out of allowing private retailers within their boundaries.

Tory, who expressed support for allowing the stores prior to the council meeting, said not doing so would take the city back to the "wild west."

But he also put forward a motion calling on the provincial government to give municipalities more power over where the stores can open, so Toronto could potentially restrict openings around schools, community centres, and youth facilities — which received unanimous support.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Tory said he "sincerely" hopes Premier Doug Ford and the government of Ontario will seriously consider the city's request to restrict the locations where stores can open. 

"While today's vote on cannabis will see Toronto become a part of a regulatory regime and allow cannabis retail stores, I do not believe it provides adequate ability for the city of Toronto to protect people and neighbourhoods," the statement reads. 

The province has put in certain regulations targeting youth, including a rule that stores must be at least 150 metres away from schools, and a ban on anyone under 19 accessing the properties.

Only 'short window' to negotiate with province

Another motion on the table from Coun. Mike Colle, calling on the city to opt out, did receive support from multiple councillors — including Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam — but ultimately didn't pass.

Speaking to CBC Toronto before the vote took place, Wong-Tam stressed there's only a "short window" to negotiate with the province on tighter regulations before the storefront sales begin in the spring. 

"I don't believe that we have what we need right now to build a tight regulation around cannabis stores at the moment," she said, saying opting out would have put the city in a "position of strength with the province."

Signing on before the January deadline means Toronto can secure additional provincial funding on top of the roughly $3 million already promised for the city.

Any municipalities that opt out can expect to receive only $5,000, according to a report from city manager Chris Murray, with other funds being distributed to municipalities who opted in on a per-household basis.


Lauren Pelley

Senior Health & Medical Reporter

Lauren Pelley covers health and medical science for CBC News, including the global spread of infectious diseases, Canadian health policy, and pandemic preparedness. Her 2020 investigation into COVID-19 infections among health-care workers won best in-depth series at the RNAO Media Awards. Contact her at:

With files from the Canadian Press