The last few months have been decisive when it comes to apprehensive municipalities reconsidering their stance on cannabis retail. Not only has West Vancouver recently opted-in to allowing cannabis businesses, as well as a few others in the Greater Vancouver Area, but since April, Pickering and Mississauga, in Ontario, are rethinking their previous hesitance, too.
Mississauga is Out
On Wednesday, the municipal council in Mississauga voted against allowing cannabis retail for the second time. In an 8 to 4 vote, councillors decided that their municipality would continue to opt-out of cannabis retail, despite a survey that reported at least 70% of citizens approved.
When the council was presented with a report outlining the benefits and drawbacks of having cannabis retailers in the area, it appeared as though it was starting to get behind the idea, however, there wasn’t enough support.
Municipal staff seemed to be concerned about the lack of control the municipality would have on store locations.
“Other than deciding to permit or prohibit retail sale, municipalities still have a limited role to play in regulating cannabis in Ontario,” says a City of Mississauga report. “Municipalities cannot require that cannabis retail stores obtain a business licence nor can they designate cannabis retail as a separate land use from retail or commercial.”
This lack of control and the fact that, according to the report, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has never denied a license because of an objection from the municipality, is giving some councillors cold feet. Despite extensive presentations and consultation from the Ontario Cannabis Store, Spiritleaf, the AGCO, Aurora Cannabis, Fire & Flower, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML Canada), CannaBank Holdings, Terr Ascend Inc., Canna Relief Consulting, and the Mississauga Board of Trade, the proposal was denied.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie says she’s disappointed by the decision.
“I support opting-in because stores are safe, clean and regulated,” Crombie said in a series of tweets on Wednesday. “I support opting-in because Mississauga is behind the times. There is no denying that our residents use cannabis and we must give them options to buy it. I support opting in because it provides jobs. Whether they are direct or indirect jobs, the retail sale of cannabis is a legitimate economic driver.”
She’s right, too, according to the report. If allowed, cannabis retail could produce around $74 million in annual revenue, but instead, it’s going to surrounding municipalities.
City Council still has yet to vote on the proposal.
Pickering Is In
On the other side of Toronto, Pickering politicians decided to allow cannabis retail in December 2020 after opting out in 2019. Council’s trepidation came from similar reasons to Mississauga, however, providing safe access and bringing economic growth to the community won out in the end. Councillor Kevin Ashe said at the time that residents didn’t want a shop on every corner like in some neighbouring municipalities, but even though he didn’t agree with cannabis legalization, it wasn’t the right move to defer the decision and leave potential government funding on the table.
In the interim, a survey was conducted with nearly 1,400 respondents from the area and it was found that 62.9% of residents were in favour of cannabis retail. Coupled with inquiries to surrounding municipalities ensuring that they weren’t having enforcement issues, that was what it took for Council to approve the proposal.
Pickering’s first cannabis retailer, Lolly, opened its doors on June 4.
Hesitant municipalities are holding back because they don’t like the AGCO’s ability to plunk its cannabis retail game pieces wherever it wants, but by allowing retailers to set up shop they could be providing essential economic growth to residents as the province recovers from COVID-19 lockdowns.