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PEC councillors ‘opt-in’ for cannabis retail locations

UPDATE JAN 15 – Council in a four-minute special meeting Tuesday night, adopted the motion from last week’s special Committee of the Whole meeting to permit retail cannabis locations as licensed and regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, within Prince Edward County and that this decision be reported to the appropriate authorities prior to the Jan. 22, 2019 deadline.

PEC councillors choosing cannabis ‘opt-in’ option for Jan. 15 decision

Story and photo by Sharon Harrison
About two dozen residents made their way to council’s special Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday at the Prince Edward Community Centre to hear questions and concerns about the County opting in, or out, of cannabis retail sales.

Mayor Steve Ferguson was the lone voice for opting out, as the remainder of council chose to support opting in.

A brief summary of a prepared staff report and recommendations was presented by Neil Carbone, Director of Community Development and Strategic Initiatives, and included results of recent surveys conducted in the County. The telephone survey gained a community sample size of 350 residents, regionally represented, and deriving a confidence interval of +/- 5 per cent, 19 times out of 20. There were 750 respondents to the municipal online survey and the results did not deviate significantly from the telephone survey. (Some highlights here; with the complete report on the County’s website)

Based on the result of the public consultation process, staff is recommending council permit the establishment of licensed and regulated private retail stores in Prince Edward County. Cannabis currently can only be bought legally online and Ontario municipalities have until Jan 22 to decide if they will allow private stores to open next spring – lottery-style for no more than 25 retail licenses due to supply shortages Canada-wide. Additional licences are to follow as supply increases.

The key objective of the retail cannabis study was to determine if respondents support or oppose legal and tightly-regulated cannabis retail stores in the County. To make the study multi-dimensional, it included questions regarding attitudes to legalization, perceived economic impact, past and present usage and asked about concerns.

The telephone survey indicated 54 per cent of County residents have used cannabis at least once in the past and one in five residents (20 per cent) are currently regular or occasional users. It noted 76 per cent of residents aged 18-53 support cannabis retail.

Concerns highlighted in the survey included proximity to schools/daycare at 65 per cent; security and safety at 46 per cent; crime at 39 per cent, odour at 33 per cent; and hours of operation at 29 per cent.

The survey showed 70 per cent of residents who intend to purchase cannabis expect to do so at retail stores in the County. This represents less than one quarter (22 per cent) of the total 18-plus population.

Carbone noted that due to the limited number of licenses to be issued this spring “we may not see any bricks and mortars stores in Prince Edward County for a several years,” leaving the economic implications surrounding job creation and economic impact uncertain.

Chairing the meeting, councillor Janice Maynard opened the floor to public questions. Three local residents stepped forward.

Mandy B., wanted to know the net gain of the revenue stream less costs for opting in versus opting out.

It was explained that provincial funding will result in a first payment of $34,750 and second payments equal to or greater than the first payment should the municipality permit retail stores. Further funds could be available provided that more than $100 million in federal excise duty is collected on legal cannabis. Opting out would result in the second payment being reduced to $5,000 and ineligibility for any further funds, even if the municipality permits retail cannabis in the future.

“There has been an indication that if there is future funding provided, if a municipality has opted out, they will not have access to any future funding, so there is an unknown,” said Carbone.

Wellington resident Harley Branscombe said he has noticed a number of people over the years using marijuana to help them with their medical issues.

“This is a benefit to anyone who has an injury such as myself. It helps me from time-to-time to cope with my depression,” he added. “I should be able to go buy it from a store just as I buy liquor from a liquor store and beer from a beer store, rather than going up to the reservation, or buying it from suspect people.”

Richard Jones, a South Marysburgh resident, was concerned that nobody has had any experience with cannabis retail sales and stated the ‘smart decision is to opt out’.

“The question that is really before you is whether or not you want the municipality to have any ability at all to survey the process,” said Jones, noting there are only five locations for all of eastern Ontario.

Hillier councillor Ernie Margetson said that based on what he has seen, he would support opting in.

“There will be growing pains with this,” he said, “But we have at the national level made the decision to legalize marijuana.”

Addressing some of Jones’ concerns, Margetson said he was hoping the municipality could come forward with a policy paper on marijuana shops.

“If we wanted to change the set-backs or increase the number of institutions or locations for set-backs, we would have an opportunity to be unique in that respect. So if we wanted to add libraries, hospitals and arenas, and not only schools and daycares, we could come up with a policy paper that fits our needs and that could be amended from time-to-time.”

Mayor Steve Ferguson asked staff about positions of neighbouring municipalities.

Todd Davis, Community Development Supervisor, stated Quinte West and Belleville have not yet made a decision, and Cobourg has opted in.

Ferguson also questioned funding and asked staff what the money would be used for. Municipalities must use the funding to address implementation costs that directly relate to the legalization of recreational cannabis. Examples include increased enforcement (e.g., police, public health and by-law enforcement, court administration, litigation); increased response to public inquiries (e.g., 311 calls, correspondence); increased paramedic services; increased fire services; and bylaw / policy development (e.g., police, public health, workplace safety policy).

Ferguson noted concern with control if the municipality chooses to opt in.

“I think we’ve got a situation of a carrot and stick,” said Ferguson. “I am by nature fairly cautious and I think there are an awful lot of unanswered questions concerning location, number, who can run the stores, who can apply for retail and so on.”

He urged council to take a more cautious approach – “not opt in at this point and see where the chips fall in neighbouring municipalities.”

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will be responsible for approving or denying site applications for retail cannabis stores.

Councillor Jamie Forrester said he will be supporting fully the decision to opt in, noting the concerns of making money have never been a concern for him.

“Taking the criminal element out of it is the most important factor behind this,” he said. “Make it simple, make it easy. We are making a big deal out of something that’s been readily available to people at any hour of the day, seven-days-a-week for as long as I can remember.”

Councillor Mike Harper said he would also support the motion as public consultations were clear. He noted there will always be some unknowns and there isn’t always perfect information.

“You have to take a leap of faith,” he said, stating the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) “has our best interests at heart and will work with us to make reasonable decisions. “Let’s take the money!”

Councillor Maynard was also in support of the decision to opt in and noted the very high number of survey participants on what was a very controversial issue.

A special council meeting will be held at Shire Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 7pm for council to ratify its position.

Filed Under: Local News

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  1. sue says:

    I care deeply about the local community, which is affected heavily by the local economy based on council decisions. Many which have not been beneficial to the local community, and which cater to visitor experience.

  2. Chuck says:

    sue; all of Council excepting the Mayor are in support of opting in for local retail cannibis outlets.

  3. Daniel Cassells says:

    I agree with the Mayor. Anyone that cares about the local community and our heritage should.

  4. sue says:

    The risk of increased costs such as police, public health, litigation, bylaw and court administration are at minimum three fold during the busy summer months as a result of tourism. Yet, the local tax payors cover these costs already. Why bother conducting a survey if the results and preferences of the citizens are going to be ignored? This is outrageous. While the mayor is doing the math, we can watch all those dollars go over the bridge to purchase illegal pot, from illegal distributors. Absolutely ridiculous.

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