Brock council votes to allow retail sale of cannabis in the township

Township council has given the green light to recreational cannabis retailers.

Following a fairly lengthy debate Monday (Jan. 7) night and a preliminary motion to opt-out was defeated, council voted by a 5-2 margin to allow retail sales as of April 1. Even with the vote, it’s highly unlikely a storefront operation will be up and running this spring.

“Only 25 licenses are being granted in the first phase. We’re at a low risk opting in,” noted Ward 2 Councillor Claire Doble.

“At best, we might get one license.”

Those that supported the decision cited the results of a Township survey conducted through December that showed that 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of allowing retail sales.

A survey by the Brock Board of Trade of its members drew a similar reaction as eighteen respondents (or 58 per cent) were in favour.

“We really need to look at the survey results,” Coun. Doble said.

Ward 5 Councillor Lynn Campbell echoed those sentiments, saying she would support the “vocal majority” of residents.

In supporting retail sales locally, Ward 4 Councillor Cria Pettingill said that she fully expects operators to be “tightly regulated” and “tightly scrutinized.”

Residents will also play a role, she added.

“In a small town like ours, all eyes will be on the retailer.”

Regional Councillor Ted Smith and Ward 3 Councillor Walter Schummer were the only members opposed.

They initially brought forward a motion calling for the municipality to opt out but it was defeated by that same 5-2 margin.

Coun. Schummer noted that municipal politicians have had little more than a month to deal with the issue given the Province’s deadline of Jan. 22.

“There’s been minimal time to debate the issues or obtain public consultation,” he said, adding that the timeline put a “gun to the head” of municipal governments.

While the survey was a means to “get the discussion started,” Coun. Schummer said that council could have done more to engage the public.

He encouraged his colleagues to take a step back and wait to see how the retail model works in other municipalities before opting in.

“Down the road, I do want to allow retail cannabis sales in Brock Township,” Coun. Schummer said.

“Neither one of us is opposed to opting in once more information is known,” added Coun. Smith.

Both said that they supported the previous provincial model that would have seen retail cannabis outlets run by the LCBO rather than private enterprise.

The Township’s survey drew a total of 761 responses — 456 indicated that recreational cannabis retailers should be allowed to operate in the township, while 230 answered in opposition.

“Recreational cannabis was legalized on Oct. 17, 2018 by the federal government and it is now legal to purchase and use cannabis for recreational purposes across Canada.  In Ontario, currently the only way to legally purchase recreational cannabis is online through the Ontario Cannabis Store, but beginning in April 2019 it will be available for purchase through private recreational cannabis retail stores,” a background note on the survey reads.

“The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will be the provincial regulator authorized to licence private recreational cannabis retail stores. The Ontario Cannabis Store will be exclusive wholesaler to these retailers. The province is providing municipalities a one-time opportunity to opt-out of having private recreational cannabis retail stores within their municipal boundaries by Jan. 22, 2019. A decision to opt-in cannot be reversed while a decision to opt-out may be reversed in the future.”

The municipality also received roughly 19 pages of written responses from those that completed the survey.

The Township will receive a small share of provincial funding to assist with the implementation costs of cannabis legalization.

The Province has committed at least $40 million worth of funding to municipalities over the next two years, according to a letter received by council last month.

“In early January, the first payment of $15 million will be made to all municipalities on a per household basis, adjusted so that at least $5,000 is provided to each municipality. This will enable all municipalities to proceed with their planned legalization activities,” reads the letter.

“A second payment of $15 million will then be distributed following the deadline for municipalities to opt-out under the Cannabis Licence Act, which is Jan. 22, 2019. Municipalities that have not opted-out as of January 22, 2019 will receive funding on a per household basis, adjusted so that at least $5,000 is provided to each municipality. This funding will support initial costs related to hosting retail storefronts.”

At the time, CAO/Clerk Thom Gettinby told members of council that the Township will receive roughly $6,600 for the first payment though that total will be split with Durham Region.

Municipalities that opt out of allowing retail operations will only receive $5,000 during the second round of payments.

“The Province is setting aside $10 million of the municipal funding to address costs from unforeseen circumstances related to the legalization of recreational cannabis, and priority will be given to municipalities that have not opted-out,” the letter from the Province reads.

“Further details will be provided at a later date.”

The letter continues by noting that municipalities that allow the retail operations will also be eligible for additional funding.

“If Ontario’s portion of the federal excise duty on recreational cannabis over the first two years of legalization exceeds $100 million, the Province will provide 50 per cent of the surplus only to municipalities that have not opted-out as of Jan. 22, 2019.”

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