Whatever happens in 2019, the first major issue that Brampton will have to deal with is cannabis, specifically whether to opt in or out of the cannabis store regime set up by the Ford government.
Municipalities have until January 22 to make up their minds and if they choose not to respond, they are automatically opted in. While Brampton has chosen to defer the matter until January when more information can be obtained through additional public consultation, Mississauga and Markham have already opted out but Toronto has opted in.
Reasonings behind opting out were based on a ‘wait and see’ approach, citing the desire to observe how it plays out in other jurisdictions before deciding whether to opt in later. Thankfully, Toronto (the largest city in Ontario) has done so which would give others a model to look over.
However, even if Brampton opts in, they would be competing for a limited supply of cannabis stores that will be allowed to open as of April 1. The Ontario government recently announced that they are limiting the number of brick and mortar stores opening to 25 across the province, citing a supply shortage.
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“This is a national issue that demands an immediate response from Justin Trudeau and the federal government. The Government of Ontario has brought this to the federal government’s attention repeatedly. At a recent meeting of federal, provincial and territorial Finance Ministers in Ottawa, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, along with Finance Ministers from several other provinces and territories, raised the issue of a severe shortage of supply across the country with Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau,” the press release states.
“To ensure a fair and transparent process, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will implement a lottery system to determine who is eligible for the initial licences to legally operate a store in Ontario. All interested parties will be able to submit an expression of interest form online to the AGCO from January 7 to January 9, 2019.”
With the use of a lottery system, which most people expect to be a random selection, at least the government cannot be accused of playing favourites when it comes to selecting where the 25 stores will go across Ontario.
But the overall question is, should Brampton opt in?
One major selling point is the impending tax revenue from cannabis sales, but according to city staff, opting out means forfeiting provincial funding or excise tax revenue sharing, which could cost the city up to $1.4 million per year in lost tax money. Brown has also shown concern over how police funding is also tied up in the proposal.
The dealbreaker may have been the “poison pill” of the distance allowed for stores to be near schools. The previous Liberal government had set a distance of at least 450 metres; the Ford government amended that distance to 150 metres. Brampton councillor Charmaine Williams previously mentioned to inbrampton.com that she believed 300 metres was the safest distance from schools.
At the end of the day, the Ford government may have (in some sense) trying to find a way to make this issue as unpalatable as possible, first with the reduced minimum distance for stores to schools and now limiting the first number of stores by April to 25. With the provincial government’s current relationship with Brampton not being that positive, what are the odds that Brampton would nab one of those stores if the city opted in?
The stigma around cannabis usage also lingers, at least when it comes to decipher why cities like Mississauga and Markham opted out. Some have said that the word ‘marijuana’ should be put to rest when describing the plant, and cannabis is the correct term to use. When people hear ‘marijuana’ it conjures up more negative images that people are accustomed to than the new way the herb is being marketed and presented to the public.
But unless you’re really passionate about this issue, or require cannabis for medicinal purposes to relieve pain or to treat an illness, the general public has not been as riled up by this issue. Perhaps that is why Mississauga felt it was a safe move that would result in little future repercussions.
Do you think Brampton should opt in to having cannabis stores in the city?