Municipal officials in a handful of Ontario municipalities are making it known they have no interest in playing host to cannabis stores. As a result, the provincial government has said it will delay opening retail outlets in those communities.
Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow said his town council has been flooded with complaints from residents about the provincial government’s plan to open a cannabis store in the suburb north of Toronto.
"We have taken a stance of: We are not a willing host," said Barrow said in an interview. "…I don't know that we are going to get anywhere. But we had thousands [of people saying] we don't want it in our community, we don't want it near our schools, we don't want it here and why do we have to have it?"
Officials from the municipalities of Vaughan and Markham have also expressed their concerns or downright objections to having cannabis stores in their areas.
"We've sort of kept them at bay for now," said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said.
"I certainly conveyed to them that Markham didn't want to be the first… We've got a lot of questions about how it's going to work."
A spokeswoman for Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says the government will not force municipalities to accept cannabis stores – at least not in the first wave of 40 outlets planned for Canada’s legalization deadline of July 1, 2018.
"If a municipality is not prepared to locate a store, the province will defer locating in that municipality," Jessica Martin, Sousa's press secretary, said in an e-mail. "As we roll-out the next phase of stores, we will continue to engage with municipalities on an ongoing basis, including with those municipalities who may not be ready for a store opening in July, 2018. Ultimately, our goal through a controlled model is to ensure a safe and sensible framework for cannabis legalization."
That said, it does not appear that municipalities will be able to refuse participation in the Ontario government’s plan to open 150 cannabis stores by 2020.
The Ontario government recently announced the first 14 municipalities where it planned to open cannabis stores: Barrie, Brampton, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Mississauga, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan and Windsor.
Municipalities across Ontario – including Toronto, Richmond Hill and Markham – have expressed concerns over a lack of cannabis revenues to cover higher policing costs.