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City council should allow private pot shops to operate in the capital, staff recommend


Meta Cannabis Supply Company shops that opened in Winnipeg operated by Ottawa-based National Access Cannabis, which hopes to open stores across Ontario including in Ottawa. National Access Cannabis operates eight stores under the NewLeaf and Meta Cannabis Supply Co. brands in Alberta and Manitoba and has applications pending for more. National Access Cannabis photo


OTTwp

City bureaucrats want council to allow pot shops in the capital, but professional polling commissioned by the city reveals opinions are divided on cannabis storefronts.

The staff recommendation, contained in a report tabled Wednesday, comes after the city completed a comprehensive review of the new federal cannabis law and the provincial regulatory regime.

Now, council has to decide if it will allow storefront pot shops to set up in the city. The Ontario Progressive Conservative government is giving all municipalities a chance to opt out of having private stores that legally sell cannabis on their territory.

The city report includes results from a random phone survey of 803 Ottawa residents done by EKOS Research, with 48 per cent supporting cannabis retail stores and 43 per cent opposing the stores. Another seven per cent of respondents were undecided and two per cent didn’t want to answer. (The results are accurate to plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20).

A non-scientific, city-run survey — which received the most feedback ever for a city-run survey, with more than 23,000 responses — skews in favour of pot shops.

Of 15,626 responses sent from Ottawa locations, about 68 per cent indicated a strong support for pot shops and 17 per cent indicated a strong opposition. In general, many more survey respondents support cannabis retail stores than oppose them.

Recreational cannabis has been legal since Oct. 17 under federal law. The province will allow private cannabis retail stores as of April 1, 2019. Ontario municipalities must indicate by Jan. 22 whether they will opt out of having pot shops.

On Dec. 13, Ottawa council will open the floor to anyone who wants to weigh in on the staff recommendation before debating and voting on the proposal.

Under the province’s rules, council can opt out now and opt in later, but it can’t do the reverse. Once the city opens its doors to pot shops, it’s a permanent decision.

Mayor Jim Watson, who says cannabis wasn’t a big municipal election issue, supports Ottawa having pot shops.

“We can argue until the cows come home about whether it’s the right thing do or not,” Watson said. “It is legal to possess cannabis and we should be in the business of providing storefronts for that.”

However, Watson doesn’t like that the city can’t control where the pot shops will be located. Provincial rules prevent municipalities from creating zoning rules on where licensed pot shops can operate, raising the fear that a glut of shops will be concentrated on a commercial strip.

The only influence, if any, that the city has is providing feedback to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario on applications for pot store licences. The city is indicating that it will voice opposition to pot shops wanting to locate within 150 metres of another pot shop.

Watson also thinks that pot shops should be farther than 150 metres from schools, which is the buffer mandated by the province.

Anthony Di Monte, the city’s general manager of community and protective services, has led a staff project examining the cannabis laws.

Di Monte’s team has five reasons why it’s recommending council allow pot stores: police believe it would deter the cannabis black market, there’s an economic development opportunit, public health likes the quality control of cannabis, there’s public feedback suggesting support for shops, and the city could access additional provincial funding..

“When one puts that altogether, I would weigh the advantages for (legal pot shops), and that’s the decision we’re bringing forward to council and they’ll have to make a big policy decision based on that, Di Monte said.

According to the staff report, there could be in Ottawa between 87,000 and 162,000 customers of legal cannabis in 2019, generating between $50 million and $200 million in sales. The city figures the market could support between 34 and 69 legal pot shops, based on the economic impact.

The city hasn’t seen a dramatic difference in policing or bylaw enforcement since recreational cannabis became legal, Di Monte said.

“I would say the observation today is there’s very little change in the community,” Di Monte said, but he noted that this is a time when the city doesn’t have legal pot shops.

“The facts are what they are as we see them now,” he said. “Will that evolve? Perhaps. But right now there doesn’t seem to be a big upheaval in Ottawa.”

Municipalities will receive provincial money to offset cannabis-related costs, based on the number of households.

The city would expect to receive just over $1 million in January and then a second round of money if it opts in for pot shops. It means Ottawa would have a little more than $2 million at the end of January, Di Monte said.

Di Monte said the province has another $10 million set aside and municipalities can apply to receive some of those funds to offset added expenses.

The city can get additional money if the province collects more than $100 million in revenue in the first two years of legalization. Half of any revenue surplus will be distributed to municipalities that agree to have pot shops.

However, the initial funds wouldn’t cover the $8 million the city says it needs to respond to the new cannabis retail landscape in the first year, mostly for policing expenses. Watson said the city would have to find savings to cover any extra spending for cannabis-related enforcement.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling


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jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

Original Source
Author: Jon Willing

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