Town of Erin will not allow retail cannabis stores

ERIN – A town survey has shown 47% support for allowing retail cannabis stores in Erin, but at their first meeting of the new term, town councillors were 100% opposed.

Council unanimously slammed the door on cannabis stores on Dec. 5, siding with the 50% of survey respondents who said no. Council cited concerns about the impact on the community and Erin’s public image.

The town could decide in the future to opt back in, but a decision to opt in now is permanent.

The online survey by town staff showed 43.3 per cent of respondents strongly opposed to allowing cannabis stores and 6.3% somewhat opposed. There were 30.5% strongly in support and 17% somewhat in support.

When asked about obtaining cannabis, 49.6% said they would not use it, 7% would order it from the Ontario Cannabis Store website, 35.8% would prefer a legal, private retail store and 7.7% would grow their own.

Ontario municipalities must decide to opt out by Jan. 22 or they will automatically be open to the arrival of the shops, with no authority to control location.

“This whole thing is a mess. I can’t believe that we are as poorly prepared as we are as a society to deal with this adequately,” said councillor John Brennan.

He favoured opting out because there are “too many unknowns” related to cannabis sales.

“I don’t even think the government is in this game. From what I understand from a pricing point of view, they’re out to lunch,” he said.

“If they think the black market is going away, it’s not going away, because they [illegal sellers] are considerably cheaper than any government supply will be. There could be all sorts of enforcement problems, and I’d rather somebody else was the guinea pig.”

Councillor Mike Robins cited uncertainties and changes in how the province is handling the issue, saying “time can be in our favour.”

He said it is important to determine the implications for the community and he expressed concern about secondhand smoke, since cannabis can now be smoked where tobacco smoking is allowed.

“I don’t think prohibition is an effective tool, but part of the issue is, we just don’t know. Opting out has a lot of benefits to the community,” Robins said.

Councillor Rob Smith said the promise of $10,000 from the province to help municipalities deal with the issue, even if they opt out, is “insignificant”. He also noted that the retailing price point is “way out to lunch.”

Councillor Jamie Cheyne said, “What we don’t know is what’s coming down, pardon me, the pipeline. I honestly don’t think this will fit in our town.

“We are trying economic development programs. I’m not sure a pot centre is something we’re looking at. And I agree, apparently the local market is fairly strong.”

Mayor Allan Alls said there appears to be a consensus among Wellington municipalities of the need to follow a recommendation from OPP Inspector Scott Lawson to establish consistent bylaws.

CAO Nathan Hyde said he would bring bylaw recommendations to council early next year.

Silvana Sangiuliano of Belwood spoke as a delegation to council, denouncing cannabis legalization and predicting an increase in crime and adverse health effects. She said the maximum of four plants allowed in a home could produce 3,000 joints every three months, with no limit on a stockpile.

She urged council to not only opt out of allowing retail stores but to pass a bylaw prohibiting cannabis smoking in all public places, as Shelburne has done.

Lawson also made a presentation at the Erin meeting, saying the OPP has “not seen an enormous increase in cannabis concerns” since legalization on Oct. 17, but police will be alert as the supply increases.

“As we see cannabis become more commonplace, I anticipate that we’ll start to see more calls for service, whether that’s neighbour to neighbour, concerns about odour or access by youth,” he said.

Wellington OPP has laid some charges for drug-impaired driving, with almost all officers trained in the roadside evaluation process known as standard field sobriety testing.

Approved devices to measure the actual drug level in drivers through a saliva test have not been purchased, but they are being considered.

Many cannabis-related charges will be for ticket-based provincial offenses, not criminal ones.

Lawson said “robust enforcement” would be needed for any municipal bylaws, but the onus will be on municipalities, since his officers would not normally have time to deal with this type of complaint.

“There is no way that the OPP can handle bylaw enforcement with respect to cannabis,” he said.

Erin has only one part-time bylaw enforcement officer. While the OPP can assist with noise, barking dog complaints and parking bylaws, Lawson said there is “no capacity” to enforce a public space smoking ban.