County townships opt in on marijuana stores 

By Chad Ingram

Published Dec. 18 2018

Haliburton County council along with the councils of its lower-tier municipalities has opted in to allowing marijuana stores within its boundaries and asked staff to produce a municipal cannabis policy statement.

Cannabis became legal across Canada in October and in Ontario the provincial government is selling marijuana by mail while allowing private retailers to set up physical stores. Those stores will be able to open in April of 2019. Municipalities were given a deadline of Jan. 22 to decide if they wanted to opt out of allowing marijuana stores within their boundaries.

“Really the only way to stop a retail store from setting up shop in your municipality is the opt-out option” said Haliburton County planner Charlsey White during a Dec. 12 county council meeting.

The only setback that has been established by the provincial government is that marijuana retail outlets must be located a minimum of 150 metres from schools. Municipalities can create municipal cannabis policy statements “which could outline other sensitive uses that are in existence within your municipality” White said. These could be facilities such as those for mental health addiction treatment for example.

However ultimately any setbacks or additional regulations are not the purview of municipalities but of the province which is the licensing body.

“It’s not an additional setback but it’s a municipality saying to the province we have concerns about X Y and Z” White said. Retail shops will be able to open as of April 1.

White will create a draft municipal cannabis policy statement; one that will also likely be used by the county’s lower-tier townships. During discussions about the legalization of marijuana it’s been mentioned several times at the county council table that the four townships should take a unified approach and Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said the four townships have been working together through the county’s community policing advisory committee.

“It’s been in the last few months difficult to decipher all of the information” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. Details from the province have been rolled out in a sort of piecemeal fashion and municipal politicians have had numerous questions about funding what level of government would be responsible for enforcement and so on.

“In my mind it’s become clear … in terms of control and cost recovery that really the only way is to opt in” Devolin said.

Municipal councils that opt in to allowing marijuana retail stores within their boundaries will receive some provincial funding to assist with associated costs. However with a total of $40 million over two years for 440 municipalities in the province the funding municipal governments do receive will be relatively modest.

A point of consternation for many politicians as well as health units is that the areas where cannabis is allowed to be consumed are taken directly from the Smoke Free Ontario Act which has been used to regulate the smoking of tobacco. Marijuana can legally be consumed anywhere tobacco can legally be consumed despite the fact that marijuana unlike tobacco is a mind-altering substance that can impact people in the vicinity of the smoker.

Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy wondered if there was a deadline by which a municipal cannabis policy statement needed to be completed.

“The policy statement is fluid” White responded. “I would recommend writing it now and then it can be updated once we run into some sort of concern.”

Had county council decided to not allow marijuana retail outlets within the county it would have meant the four lower-tier townships would have automatically also opted out.

Dysart council opted in to allowing marijuana stores during their Dec. 17 meeting with a couple of members voting against the motion in a recorded vote.

“It’s a legal product it’s really the same as the LCBO” said chief administrative officer Tamara Wilbee as she gave councillors a presentation stressing that marijuana would be subject to the same types of regulations and controls as the sale of alcohol that employees would be trained in the same sort of manner and that any businesses who violate the terms of their licence run the risk of fines or having the licence revoked completely depending on the severity of the infraction.

Last week the province announced that for April only 25 licences throughout the province will be granted.

“They decided the supply isn’t there right now” Wilbee said. Those 25 licences will be attained through some kind of lottery system the details of which are not clear at this time.

While municipalities that choose to opt out of allowing marijuana outlets can choose to opt in later “opting out and trying to get back in later will be difficult” Wilbee said. The process for licensing is set to begin the second week of January.

Staff had created a draft municipal cannabis policy statement that encouraged the province to recognize the Haliburton Youth Hub and Point in Time along with the schools in Haliburton Village as sensitive locations that retail outlets should not be located close to. Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said he’d like to see public parks added to this list.

“We worked on this in consultation” Wilbee said of the county’s other townships and the upper tier stressing that a consistent approach to regulations was being taken across Haliburton County.

Councillor Larry Clarke said consistency between the townships was important and wondered what kind of bylaws the township may be able to create to control where people smoked marijuana.

In some areas Wilbee said simple signage indicating preferred areas for smoking had been erected.

“It’s so new there’s not a lot done” she said. She said the regulations of the Smoke Free Ontario Act mean that smoking is already prohibited in areas such as playgrounds or arenas. Wilbee acknowledged it’s likely the township will receive some complaints as it has in the past.

“We had complaints before legalization” she said.

Noting that marijuana had been made legal by the federal government and that opting in gave municipalities access to more funding Mayor Andrea Roberts was supportive of the opt-in.

“For me I see no reason to opt out” Roberts said.

That was not the case for Councillor John Smith who said the lack of ability to control where marijuana retail outlets can be located was an issue for him. The provincial legislation says that marijuana stores can be located within any area zoned for retail and does not allow municipalities to discriminate or create separate zones for the sale of marijuana.

In a recorded vote Smith and Councillor Walt McKechnie who cited concerns around use by youth voted against the opt-in.

Minden Hills Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands councils have also opted in to allowing marijuana retail outlets.