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Council Seeking Public Input – Recreational Cannabis Retail

Information Regarding Retail Recreational Cannabis

Council must make a decision whether or not to allow retail sale of recreational cannabis within the township no later than January 22, 2019.

Council is seeking public input on this matter prior to their next regular meeting on December 17, 2018.  Please review the information below and in the links provided and submit any comments you may have to Todd Gordon, Economic Development Officer (705-282-2611 ext. 224; tgordon@billingstwp.ca) no later than 4:00 p.m. December 12, 2018.

Background:

The provincial government has established a framework (the Cannabis Licensing Act, 2018) for private retail sales of recreational cannabis products, starting April 1, 2019. Private cannabis sales will be licensed and regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). The province has taken the stance that, as cannabis is legal, controlled, and regulated, it requires no special zoning for added control and will be treated in the same manner as any other retail business (zoning-wise). Retail is a permitted use in all zones within the Township of Billings, except Hamlet Residential.

Municipalities have one opportunity to opt out of allowing retail cannabis sales within their jurisdictional boundaries, and the decision must be made and received by the AGCO by January 22, 2018. If the AGCO does not receive notice of a municipality’s decision to opt out by January 22, the municipality has opted in by default. If a municipality opts out by January 22, they can reverse their decision and opt in at a later date. If a municipality does not opt out by January 22, they cannot choose to opt out at a later date. 

Key Points About the Regulatory Framework

  • Full details regarding AGCO licensing process have not yet been released. Here is an infographic from the AGCO that lays out the process details that are known at this time.
  • There are three parts to the licensing process: operator approval, retail site location approval, and store management licensing. The application fees have been published – a single store requiring a licensed manager will spend a minimum of $10,750.00 in application fees.
  • There will be a 150 metre buffer around schools where retail cannabis stores will not be permitted. There are no other buffers from any other types of facilities.
  • There are minimum standards for retail stores for such things as security.
  • Municipalities and members of the public will have 15 days following submission of a retail site licence application to submit comments to the AGCO. Municipal comments must be limited to whether or not the location is in the public interest. “Public interest” is narrowly defined as public health and safety, protecting youth, and eliminating the illegal cannabis market. The AGCO will not inform municipalities directly of applications in their jurisdictions, staff will have to monitor the AGCO web portal (iAGCO) daily. Given the short comment period, it is anticipated that there may be instances where the comment period will close before an application can be brought to council for review (see AMO recommendations below regarding a pre-emptive policy statement to guide municipal comments).
  • The province will provide funding to municipalities to help cover the costs of implementation of recreational cannabis legislation through the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund (OCLIF) as follows:
    • A first payment in early January 2019 of at least $5,000.00
    • A second payment following the opt-out deadline of at least $5,000.00. It is unclear at this time whether municipalities that opt out will receive this second payment.
    • These funds can only be used for costs associated with implementation of cannabis legalization legislation, e.g., OPP costs, policy development, by-law enforcement, etc.
  • The province has also committed to sharing 50% of any surplus tax revenue (anything over the projected $100 million to be received from the federal government during the first two years of legalization) with municipalities that opt in. Municipalities that opt out will not receive any surplus tax monies.

AMO Recommendations

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has made the following recommendations for municipalities that choose to opt in at this time:

  • Establish a ‘one-window’ point person within senior municipal staff to receive/research/provide information from/to AGCO regarding applications for retail store licensing, to streamline commenting in the 15-day window. This person should be positioned to coordinate review and comments from all appropriate departments.
  • Establish a policy statement to guide municipal comments regarding applications for retail store licensing and share this policy statement with AGCO when informing them of the decision to opt in.

 Summary

If council is satisfied that allowing retail cannabis sales in Billings will not be a detriment to public health, youth, or the goal of eliminating the illegal market, then opting in now is prudent as it will maximize the township’s financial opportunities.

If council is willing to forgo any future provincial implementation funding and tax revenue and would like to wait and see how the licensing process plays out in other municipalities before allowing retail sales in Billings, then opting out may be the best decision at this time.

Opting In

Pro: Will receive future funding if and when it becomes available; opens the door for economic development opportunities in Billings.

Con: Opportunity to, and impact of comments on, applications is very limited; will have very little say in where retail locations end up; cannot reverse decision and opt out later.

Opting Out

Pro: Absolute control over cannabis retail in Billings (none); could opt in at a later date.

Con: Forfeit potential future funding and economic development within the township related to recreational cannabis.

Useful Resources

1)      Cannabis Act (federal)

2)     Cannabis Licence Act, 2018 (provincial)

3)     AGCO Cannabis Retail Regulation Guide

4)     Public Health Sudbury and Districts

5)      Ontario Public Health Unit Collaboration on Cannabis Consultation Paper

6)     Articles/Studies about legal cannabis and crime rates: