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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Owen Sound 'Opts-In' To Retail Cannabis Stores

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

When licenses will be available to applicants in city remains unknown

Owen Sound has chosen to allow retail pot shops.

City council resolved to notify the province before the Jan. 22 deadline the Scenic City will 'opt-in' to allow retail cannabis stores in a near unanimous vote at yesterday's meeting.

But, don't expect to see any pot shops pop-up in the city in the near future.

The province has indicated it will only issue 25 licenses across Ontario when it rolls out private retail cannabis stores on April 1, 2019, citing concerns over a lack of supply.

Director of Community Services Pam Coulter told councillors only seven of those will be distributed to municipalities in Ontario's west region, which includes Owen Sound, and will be limited to cities with more than 50,000 people.

That would eliminate applicants in Owen Sound looking to obtain a marijuana retail licence from the initial rollout. No information has been shared yet as to when the province plans to issue additional licenses past April.

Mayor Ian Boddy says he was "reluctantly" in favour of the option to opt-in, after serving up criticism towards both the federal and provincial governments for their handling of legalization.

"By our federal government it was rushed through with a deadline that had to be done right away and they didn't think through all the consequences," Boddy explains. "We've got regulations that are still needed. Our police don't know what machine they're going to use to identify the level of impairment of a driver."

"And the province is changing things daily and giving it to us to decide," continues Boddy. "We're told if we don't decide before a deadline we won't get the funding that comes from the province."

Mayor Boddy says because marijuana is a legal product now the social issues that come with it will still affect the city even if it did opt-out, as consumers can just obtain it elsewhere.

"My thinking was: 'we're going to be getting the issues anyway, we might as well try to get some of the money to go with it,'" Boddy says.

Coulter told council the province will disperse $15-million to all municipalities in January with payments based on number of households.

Owen Sound will receive $127.50 per household, which she says equals about $13,000.

Coulter says opt-in municipalities are expected to receive the same amount in a second round of funding at a later date, while those who opt-out will be capped at $5,000.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario says the Ministry of Finance has indicated if the province's share of the federal cannabis excise tax exceeds $100-million in the first two years of legal sales, 50 per cent of the surplus will be distributed only to municipalities who opt-in before the Jan. 22 deadline.

Coun. Brock Hamley moved a motion to defer the opt-out decision until the Jan.7 meeting and conduct an online public survey on the issue.

Many municipalities have chosen to conduct surveys to obtain input from the community before making an opt-out decision.

Hamley's motion was defeated.

Every councillor weighed-in on the marijuana issue before it went to a vote. Several struck a similar tone, saying marijuana is now a legal substance in Canada available for purchase and it is going to be consumed in Owen Sound, like it or not.

Many councillors also spoke to the importance of stamping out the black market and praised the regulated sales of pot as a safer alternative to consumers.

"From a parental standpoint, my experience is not different many people. I had a child who became involved in the drug subculture and was dealing with some rather shady characters," says Coun. Richard Thomas. "Your concern as a parent is always that your kid is going to get into something that is bad. Approving legal cannabis sales will help eliminate those underground, illegal markets we've got going in our city."

Coun. John A. Tamming was the lone holdout who voted against the motion to opt-in.

"My main reason for not opting-in at this time is we can always opt-in a year, or two or three years from now, and wait and see how other towns do," Tamming says. "I'm really concerned we have virtually no control or veto over the location of the stores, or how many stores there will be."

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