The City of Hamilton’s much-debated motion to allow recreational marijuana sales in the city is much ado about nothing, according to Flamborough Chamber of Commerce executive director Matteo Patricelli.
Council voted 10-6 to opt in to allowing legal, recreational marijuana shops in the city on Jan. 14 — in advance of the Jan. 22 deadline set out by the province. That vote followed an 8-8 tie on a motion to opt out and seek a better deal from the province.
However, Patricelli said he doesn’t see any immediate impact from the decision.
“In the long-term, it opens up possibilities for business,” he said. “But immediate impact? Nothing has changed.”
He said there are few licences available provincewide, and only four of 25 candidates who won a lottery last month to be allowed to apply for a legal pot retail licence have possible ties to the Hamilton area.
“There’s not much to say about it, other than generally, it is an open-for-business type policy,” he said.
Councillors who advocated against opting in, including Ward 12 Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, were instead in favour of a wait-and-see approach.
Ward 15 Coun. Judi Partridge was opposed to opting in, arguing once the city opts in, it cannot opt out.
“Opting in means you accept what the province has laid out with no negotiation,” she said.
Partridge said she voted to opt out because she feels Hamilton could negotiate a better deal.
Regardless of the decision, the City of Hamilton would have received an initial payment from the province of $574,493, its share of $15 million to be distributed among Ontario municipalities to help with the cost of legalization. But if they had decided to opt out Hamilton would have only received a second payment of up to $5,000 and nothing from federal excise tax revenue.
By saying yes, the city stands to gain a second provincial payment similar to the first. As well, the province has said if its share of the federal excise tax over the first two years is more than $100 million, municipalities will get 50 per cent of the surplus.
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CANNABIS: A TIMELINE
Jan. 22, 2019: The provincial deadline for municipalities to opt out of hosting retail cannabis shops. Across Ontario, 77 municipalities opt out, while 337 opt in.
Jan. 15, 2019: Council votes; retail cannabis stores can open up shop in Hamilton starting April 1.
Jan. 11, 2019: The province’s pot lottery winners are announced. Of the 16,905 “expressions of interest” received, 25 were selected. Of those, four applicants are said to be in Hamilton.
Oct. 17, 2018: The end of an era; recreational cannabis is legal in Canada.
June 21, 2018: The Cannabis Act receives Royal Assent.
June 20, 2018: The Cannabis Act is passed in the Senate.
April-June 2017: Ontario seeks feedback on the recreational use of cannabis.
April 13, 2017: Bill C-45, the federal Cannabis Act that proposes amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act among others, is introduced in Parliament sparking debate.
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One of Partridge’s key concerns with the province’s plan is the proposed location of legal recreational marijuana shops.
“The province has said the radial separation is going to be 150 metres from schools, etc.” said Partridge. “The City of Hamilton was asking for 400 metres.”
In addition to an increased buffer from schools, council was also asking for the same distance from parks, detox centres, nurseries and child care centres, libraries, community centres and mental health/addiction centres.
HWDSB Ward 15 trustee Penny Deathe said there are concerns from a board standpoint that with increased accessed to edible forms of marijuana, it may be harder to monitor student use.
Deathe said the location of potential recreational marijuana stores is a concern in Waterdown, as the provincial guidelines should be much more stringent.
“One-hundred-fifty metres is ludicrous,” she said. “It needs to be much more than that, the distance to these legal shops.”
Patricelli said while arguments from both sides had merit, he feels the risks of not opting in were greater than doing so.
“At least we’re at the table, we’ll be part of the learning curve,” he said. “Probably, we’ll have more of a voice at the table as things need to be changed, amended or fine-tuned.
“It’s definitely better to be in on the ground in something new than to just sit back and wait for other people to carve out the road for you.”
Partridge said part of her concern was the ability for the city to license potential stores — in addition to the province.
“As it is, with the opting in, the municipality accepts that only the province will be the regulator,” she said. “I just felt it was very important for the city to be able to protect itself, to be able to have a secondary licence issued as well.”
Another concern is that the city doesn’t know what the increased costs will be to the taxpayer, in terms of policing, she said.
“What are the effects from a health care perspective?” she added.
According to a staff report from December, Jason Thorne, the city’s general manager of planning and economic development, said the provincial funding is “insufficient to cover the ongoing costs” — whether Hamilton opted in or not.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, Hamilton Deputy Chief Dan Kinsella said the force estimates it will spend more than $683,000 to crack down on black market pot shops in 2019. In addition to policing, legalization will likely mean higher public health and bylaw enforcement costs.
“I’m really cautious on this because we don’t know what the effects are going to be and we don’t know what the increased costs are going to be,” said the Ward 15 councillor. “I doubt very much if the province is going to pick up any extra costs.”
Partridge feels the two payments from the province are a “drop in the bucket” in relation to the increased costs this year.
“And we don’t know going forward,” she said. “We just don’t know what the effects are going to be.”
Patricelli said from his understanding, the costs in terms of policing, will be there “one way or the other.”
He said while police continue to crack down on illegal dispensaries, those costs will be there regardless of whether legal operations are allowed within Hamilton.
“The fact that there’s going to be legal ones could actually help, could keep away some of the illegal ones,” he said. ”It’s obviously better for business — more regulation, more quality, competition.”
Partridge said any of the vendors that have expressed interest in locating in Hamilton can locate wherever they wish within the city, which could include Waterdown.
“They may choose to locate in Waterdown because it is seen as a fairly wealthy area,” she said. “We don’t know, but they have every right to apply to do that.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be granted that — but the city will have no say.”
While some have found a parallel between proposed legal cannabis stores and the LCBO, Partridge said she doesn’t necessarily see the parallels — but noted there is a lot of caution around alcohol sales and consumption.
“We do know that there is a negative impact on our society,” she said of alcohol consumption. “We do know that there is a negative impact right within Ward 15 in our high schools and even within our public schools on the use of alcohol.
“So there is a danger there — but I don’t know of any LCBOs that are located within 150 metres of a school.”
Partridge said an important distinction is that the decision was only to opt in to the provincial program to regulate the location of stores — not to allow recreational marijuana.
Meanwhile, Patricelli said a key component is how quickly the province decides to open more licences down the road.
“It will be slow going.”