While Ontario may be the province with the fastest-growing number of cannabis retail stores, there are still some municipalities that are apprehensive. In the province, around 70 municipalities have opted out for various reasons. For most, it’s not because they don’t want to bolster their economies with cannabis retail, but because they feel powerless to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). These municipalities want to have more say in how many stores are allowed and where they are located—two factors the AGCO maintains control over.
One of the main complaints coming out of Ontario is that retailers seem to swarm to one or two areas. This is less than ideal; it makes it harder for existing retailers to differentiate themselves, especially when everyone can sell the same products. Not only that, but it can be difficult to provide fair access to all customers when all the stores are on one block.
In any other industry, municipalities could control this through the use of zoning laws, however, when it comes to cannabis retail, the AGCO has exclusive authority over where a store goes, which is often the exact place the applicant applied for. Despite assurances from the AGCO that it would take municipal complaints into account, not a single application has been turned down for this reason—even after the City of Hamilton submitted 29 of them.
Doing Something About It
For Councillor Ron Starr, in Mississauga, this is his main objection, and he and the city council are doing something about it. In early June, Mississagua decided to opt-out of cannabis retail for the second time for this very reason and on June 16, City Council passed a motion requesting that the AGCO loosen the reins a bit.
Citing the Municipal Act 2001, which grants municipalities the exclusive authority for zoning and licensing businesses in their jurisdictions, the motion asks for, “a reconsideration of the exclusive powers of the AGCO regarding the zoning of legal cannabis stores, recognizing the traditional role of municipalities in such matters as number and location of retail businesses.”
Mississagua isn’t the first, either.
The Town of Erin, a small town to the northwest of Mississauga, feels the same way. After a yay-or-nay survey that was nearly split down the middle, councillors are still apprehensive.
Councillor John Brennan told Guelph Today, “I’m leery because we have no real ability to enforce any bylaws or guidelines around these.”
Kitchener has taken issue with its lack of control over zoning as well and submitted a motion for the AGCO to reconsider.
Mayor Berry Vrbanovic told Kitchener Today, “Seeing businesses fail is not in our interest, nor the province’s interest. I think it would be very prudent on the province’s part to listen to us on the ground, and actually look at putting some distance separations in.”
Unfortunately, many municipalities feel as though their requests fall on deaf ears as the AGCO rushes to approve as many retailers as possible, but a solid (and loud) argument is hard to ignore.