cannabis

Town council votes to opt in to allow for retail cannabis outlets

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has voted to opt in and be open to allowing cannabis retail outlets in Amherstburg.

The vote at Monday night’s meeting saw only Councillor Peter Courtney vote in opposition. Courtney said while he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of retail cannabis shops in town, now is not the time to do it.

There are stigma concerns, Courtney stated, but he also had issues with a lack of control the municipality would have over location and how many stores the town could receive. Courtney said he would have been open to possibly opting in during the second phase of the roll-out, assuming there was additional controls given to municipalities.

“I’m opting out to opt in later if more control is given to municipalities,” he said.

Even though Amherstburg has opted in, the town is not eligible for a store authorization due to the town’s populating being under 50,000. There will be 25 licenses issued across the province to those municipalities eligible in the first phase. Amherstburg would not be eligible until at least the second phase, meaning it would be no earlier than December 2019.

“The province has committed to provide $40 million in funding over two years to municipalities to help with the implementation costs of recreational cannabis legalization. Through the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund, the first round of payments was received by the Town Jan. 9 in the amount of $11,733,” manager of licensing and enforcement Nicole Rubli stated in her report to town council.

Additional revenues could be obtained if the provincial excise duty revenues were to exceed $100 million, she stated, as “municipalities that permit retail cannabis stores will receive a share of 50 per cent of the surplus. The province will also set aside a contingency fund in the amount of $10 million to assist municipalities that permit retail stores.”

Councillor Donald McArthur expressed confidence that the $100 million mark in excise revenues would be exceeded. He was in favour because it would “clamp down” on the black market for cannabis.

McArthur added be believed a cannabis retail shop could aid commerce in the town by creating spinoff revenue for other businesses within Amherstburg.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the spinoff benefits,” he said, adding that if people can buy recreational cannabis in Amherstburg, it could boost tourism as well.

Councillor Michael Prue agreed that it could negatively impact drug dealers and that regulated cannabis would be safer for users than cannabis from a dealer that could be laced with other drugs. Councillor Marc Renaud noted he was voting to opt in based on the experiences of a co-worker and the impact the drug had on the person’s family through being bought on the street.

The vote to opt in went against the recommendation of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), as the WECHU encouraged council to opt out. Health promotion specialist Melissa Valentik and director of health promotion Nicole Dupuis outline the health risks surrounding recreational cannabis use and regulations surrounding the issue, including that shops can’t be within 150 metres of a school. The rationale for the recommendation to opt out was that it would give more time for formal public and stakeholder engagement, integrate lessons learned from other Ontario municipalities, learn more about provincial regulations and to mobilize stakeholders to respond within the 15-day consultation window.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche said the county is “borderless” in many ways and that people regularly travel through other municipalities on a daily basis. Meloche remarked that he lives on Walker Road and could potentially cross the road into Essex and go to a cannabis shop should one ever be situated there.

Meloche noted there are billions in revenue generated in tobacco, gaming and alcohol sales and believed the same could hold true for cannabis. He said “the people want it” and it could translate into “pretty significant revenue” that he hoped would be shared with municipalities.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo agreed that “the residents want it” and “we’re here to represent them.” He said he was in favour of opting in but noted he was surprised the vote was as one-sided as it was.

“The vote surprised me,” he admitted. “I thought it would have been a little bit closer.”

Cannabis meeting draws sparse crowd

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg held a public meeting on the issue of cannabis and the possibility of retail stores in town but not a lot of people came out to voice their views.

A crowd of about 15 people attended last Thursday night’s meeting in the Libro Centre’s downstairs community room, with some being incoming council members and members of administration. The presentation was run in collaboration with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

Nicole Rubli, manager of licensing and enforcement with the town, said the legalization of cannabis “has kept us on our toes.” Rubli said she has been to five conferences on the matter with different information coming out of all five. Some regulations, she noted, were issued only hours before the public meeting.

“The municipality has had to look at a moving target,” she said.

Under the province’s Cannabis Control Act, it prohibits the sale of recreational cannabis to anyone under the age of 19, prohibits those under 19 to possess, cultivate, consume or share any amount of recreational cannabis and notes that adults can possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis. Under the federal Cannabis Act, four cannabis plants per household may be grown.

The province has announced that consumption of cannabis may be done in the same places as tobacco with consumption prohibited in vehicles and boats. Retail shops have to be at least 150 metres from a school, according to provincial legislation.

Melissa Valentik from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit addresses the public at a meeting regarding cannabis held at the Libro Centre Nov. 15.

The town’s smoke-free bylaw prohibits smoking or vaping in all parks, recreational fields, playground areas, municipal trails and within nine metres of an entrance/exit to a municipal building.

Melissa Valentik, health promotion specialist with the health unit, outlined health issues surrounding recreational cannabis use, noting its addictive influence and potential health issues.

“Cannabis isn’t harmless because it’s a plant,” said Valentik, adding it has several carcinogens, toxins and irritants found in tobacco smoke.

Residents were encouraged to provide feedback, with licensing officer Andrea Pelaccia noting people can use the town’s “Talk the Burg” website found at www.talktheburg.ca. Rubli noted a report is going before council Dec. 10

Local resident Alison Baldwin didn’t believe the town gave enough notice for feedback. She believed it should have been put out to the public sooner, but Rubli said the town is on strict deadlines and that the legislation is coming at them fast and has been ever-changing. Del Oxford questioned use of online methods for feedback, believing it could hinder seniors from giving their views.

Rubli noted that concerns can also be written and mailed to town hall.

Luigi DiPierdomenico believed the town was doing a good job bringing information to the public as soon as it was received. He noted that the only cannabis store in the region was originally only going to be in Windsor.

Local resident and business owner John Pelletier believed opening cannabis retail shops in town could prove beneficial.

“I just see the opportunity of people coming to this town. It’s a small town, but we have a lot to offer,” he said. “Every municipality can gain some money if they open up retail shops.”

 

Town gets update on pot legalization

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has directed administration to hold a public consultation session with regards to the community impact on the legalization of cannabis and administration will also bring back a report with information on the province’s one-time opt-out option to host private retail cannabis outlets.

Council members received an update Monday night from manager of licensing and enforcement Nicole Rubli, who stated that while a public meeting will be held this term of council, it will be the next term of council that will be making decisions on the matter.

However, there are still questions municipalities have of the Ontario government and there are also concerns with what constitutes a nuisance and how such nuisance complaints would be handled by the municipalities.

“There’s an anticipated impact as it relates to nuisances and odours. There will be some additional enforcement required, but a lot of it is public education,” said Rubli, adding the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit will be of assistance as it relates to educating the public.

In a written report to council, Rubli noted that in April 2017, the federal government introduced Bill C-45, also known as The Cannabis Act, and Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code.

“These pieces of legislation plan to legalize, regulate and restrict access to recreational cannabis in Canada. The federal Bill C-45 is the overarching legislative framework that provides rules specifically to regulate the production, distribution, selling and possession of recreational cannabis. This Bill received royal assent in June 2018 and will come into force Oct. 17, 2018,” her report stated.

Rubli added that in December 2017, the Province of Ontario responded with corresponding legislation, the Cannabis Act, 2017 and the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation Act, 2017 (OCRCA, 2017).

“This provincial legislation will provide the regulatory framework for the purchase and use of recreational cannabis in Ontario,” she stated.

The legislation will prohibit the sale of recreational cannabis to anyone under the age of 19, prohibit the use of recreational cannabis in all public places, workplaces and motor vehicles, prohibit youth (under 19) from possessing, cultivating, consuming and sharing any amount of recreational cannabis, address illegal selling, including storefront dispensaries, allow adults to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis and allow adults to grow up to four cannabis plants per household.

“Concurrently, this legislation strengthens the penalties for supplying cannabis to under-aged youth and for impaired driving. However in August 2018, the provincial government confirmed their plans to introduce legislation to allow the private sector to retail recreational cannabis in Ontario by April 1, 2019. This will change the intent of the OCRCA, 2017 that was to establish a new Crown corporation, the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC) to sell cannabis and related products through a network of dedicated storefronts and an online channel,” Rubli’s report stated. “In the interim and as of Oct. 17, consumers 19 or older will be able to purchase recreational cannabis through an online retail platform operated by the Ontario Cannabis Store. The Minister of Finance also confirmed that municipalities will have  the ability for a one-time opting out of having a retail store in their communities.”

“This is going to be brand new for all us,” said Councillor Joan Courtney. “I hope the new council has fun with it.”

Courtney said she attended an Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference and the issue was raised that a definition of nuisance has not been clearly established. She was concerned that municipalities could face issues with enforcement and that it would present added workloads to bylaw enforcement officers.

“This is a political minefield that we’re getting into with this,” said Courtney.

CAO John Miceli shared much of Courtney’s concerns, saying “I don’t think we’re going to be on the winning end” of the issue. He agreed that additional resources may be required on the enforcement end.

“It’s going to be a big education (process) for residents and future councils,” he said.

Director of planning, development and legislative services Mark Galvin said no one has figured out the nuisance issue as of yet, including U.S. states that have legalized marijuana.

“It doesn’t seem any state has figured it out yet,” he said. “It’s going to be a process.”

Councillor Rick Fryer pointed out there could be WSIB issues with police and bylaw officers facing additional exposure to cannabis. However, he compared the issue with that of the gas tax in that money could flow back to municipalities.

“Get on the bandwagon,” said Fryer. “There is going to be a revenue stream heading back to municipalities.”

Councillor Leo Meloche noted there is the issue of proximity to other municipalities that has to be considered.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said municipalities are “in limbo” with regards to the matter and that more communication needs to come from the province.  More information is expected in October and that leaves municipalities a short time to decide to opt-in or not. Both he and Rubli noted municipalities can opt-out one time and then opt back in.

“To me, it should be called the opt-in clause,” he said. “If you do opt in, there’s no getting out.”

DiCarlo said he has heard from people interested in opening private shops and knows those people, as well as those opposed to such businesses, are anxious to see the next steps and noted there will be opportunities for public feedback.

Rubli, who is part of a town “task force” on the issue, also said she has heard from people interested in running retail stores or lounges.

“We want to ensure that we’re touching as many residents as we can to see what the town residents want and feel about cannabis storefronts,” she said.