Mississauga and Markham take a pass on legal pot shops

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For two GTA municipalities, the idea of legalizing cannabis has gone up in smoke.

On Wednesday, both Markham and Mississauga city councils voted down the option of allowing cannabis retail stores to operate in their cities ahead of the province’s plan to introduce private retail stores for pot by April 2019.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said council felt there are still too many unknowns about the retail cannabis model and what it will mean for the city.

Council shot down the proposal 10-2.

“The province has not given municipalities any control over where cannabis stores can be located in our city. This is cause for great concern,” she wrote in a statement.

“As a city, we believe it is important to have input on and control over the type of businesses that operate in our community. Under the current model, it would take less time for a cannabis retail store to be approved than any other business.”

Crombie said Mississauga may opt in later down the road, depending on community consultation.

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“Residents can still purchase cannabis online through the Ontario Cannabis Store and will have access to legal cannabis regardless of today’s decision,” Crombie said.

Under the Cannabis Licence Act, municipalities can opt out of cannabis legalization, but the one-time decision has to be submitted before Jan. 22.

It may also mean the decision would affect how much funding — the $40 million set aside by the province for local governments over two years to help with costs associated with marijuana legalization — municipalities receive.

Federal cannabis legalization came into play Oct. 17. In Ontario, the only legal way to currently buy pot is through the online Ontario Cannabis Store.

Markham followed suit and put the brakes on cannabis retail stores in its 12-1 council vote Wednesday.

“It’s just really the concerns we’ve heard from our residents saying that municipalities have no control where these (retail locations) can be placed,” said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.

“We heard concerns from parents saying these can show up in a neighbourhood plaza, because we can’t stop them from setting up, or anywhere in the community. Potentially, you could have an indoor playground area and potentially a cannabis store next door. The potential for exposure … they didn’t want to have them in Markham.”

Meanwhile, Toronto also has cannabis legalization on its council agenda Thursday. Earlier this week, Mayor John Tory pledged to push for further powers for municipalities to control the locations of private cannabis retail stores.

“We don’t want six or seven of them located within one strip of the Danforth or anywhere else in the city, for example,” Tory said in a scrum Wednesday.

“We don’t want them to be too close to schools or playgrounds or places like that and right now the rules leave it uncertain as to whether we would have the degree of control I think cities, including Toronto, should have.”

City Manager Chris Murray recommends that city council not opt-out of provincially-licensed cannabis retail stores in Toronto.

The report warns that prohibiting legal cannabis retail stores would have the unintended consequence of encouraging the illegal market to continue and undermine efforts by all levels of government to prevent youth access to cannabis and would require increased municipal and police enforcement to address illegal operations.

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