Erin council reconsidering cannabis stores

Arthur cannabis shop lone outlet in county; applications submitted for others in Mount Forest, Rockwood, Athur

ERIN – Town council here is taking another look at allowing cannabis shops after receiving public inquiries about retail stores in the area.

In a June 15 meeting, Erin councillors approved a motion to direct staff to conduct a public survey to determine residents’ opinions on allowing cannabis stores in the municipality.

In January of 2018, municipalities had to decide whether to opt in or opt out of cannabis retail. Once opted in, municipalities were told they could not opt out.

The town was one of three municipalities in the county at the time that opted-out; the others were Centre Wellington and Mapleton.

Council conducted a survey in 2018 that found 49.6 per cent of respondents were opposed to cannabis retail and 47.4% were in favour.

After receiving multiple inquiries regarding opportunities for cannabis retail, council directed staff in February to take a second look and report on the feasibility of opting in.

Planning consultant Angela Sciberras presented an update at the June 15 meeting. Included in her list of the “pros” of allowing cannabis shops as:

  • potential for future funding opportunities;
  • potential to reduce the illegal trade; and
  • benefiting the local economy by increasing employment and expanding the tax base, while utilizing vacant retail space and increasing local spending.

However, the downsides, she added, are: the need for additional smoking bylaws and additional enforcement, with little control over the number of stores and their locations, which raised concerns from staff over clustering.

Sciberras also noted the town would be a commenting agency only and have just 15 days from the date a new store application is posted to review and respond to it.

Councillor Michael Robins asked for clarification on the lack of control over clustering of stores, noting Burlington requires cannabis stores to be 500 metres apart from one another.

Sciberras replied it was a policy statement and not a bylaw, adding the Association of Municipalities Ontario had prepared a policy statement template for municipalities to use that recognizes the regulations the province set up aren’t adequate.

“They have encouraged municipalities to have guidelines for more stringent rules, but they are guidelines,” Sciberras said.

Robins also raised concerns regarding control over the look and feel of the stores.

“Is there anything that we can do to ensure the retail establishments will satisfy a certain standard?” he asked.

Sciberras responded the stores would be treated as any other retail store and council can’t apply individual retail requirements.

Councillor Rob Smith brought up concerns of proximity to daycares and teaching facilities.

“I’m assuming that if a place was allowed to operate as a cannabis retail store, that in itself anybody applying for daycare…that would restrict them, I’m assuming,” said Smith.

Sciberras explained cannabis stores would not restrict the location of daycares, but a new school would be located a minimum of 150 metres from a cannabis retail store.

Councillor Jamie Cheyne asked, “So if we stay out, is there a perpetual ability to opt in in the future or will it be a deadline for that…to opt in if we want to?”

Sciberras noted should council choose to opt in at a later date, it would risk potential changes to funding available at that time.

Robins said he likes the idea “of having another survey and to doing more due diligence with respect to the impact on the other communities.

“I think it may be viewed completely different now…compared to two years ago.”

Councillor John Brennan agreed with Robins, adding he’s still uncertain about the issue.

“I want to second that idea of having another survey,” Brennan said.

“I’m leery because we have no real ability to enforce and (have) any bylaws around them, but I think going back to our residents and asking the question again… I think that’s a worthwhile effort.”

Council approved a motion to direct staff to consult with the public to find out if opinion has changed since the town chose to opt-out of allowing retail stores.

Staff will report back to council with a recommendation based on the public survey.

Other applications

There is currently one cannabis shop open in Wellington County. The Green Cloud Cannabis on Wellington Road 109 in Arthur is part of a chain that has other outlets in Listowel and Etobicoke.

The following applications have been submitted to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) for cannabis stores in the county:

  • Cannabis Stop Inc., 168 George St., Arthur;
  • Fratelli and Co., 514 Main St. N., Mount Forest;
  • Pop’s Cannabis Co., 285 Main St. S., Mount Forest;
  • Taste Buds Cannabis, 155 Main St. S. in Rockwood; and
  • GreenSpace Co, 126 Main St. S. Rockwood.

The public commenting period for the above stores has ended, with the exception of Pop’s Cannabis in Mount Forest, which has an end date of June 19.

There are also 22 AGCO applications at various stages of the process for Guelph cannabis stores, including eight that are already open or approved to open.

-With files from Chris Daponte