The Ontario government appeared to backtrack late Friday on an earlier statement that municipalities would be unable to opt out of hosting marijuana stores, raising more questions about the province’s readiness for the expected pot legalization next summer.
The issue came up earlier this week after a City of Richmond Hill committee unanimously endorsed a statement saying it was not willing to host one of the retail stores.
If a community is selected to host one of the marijuana shops, it can delay hosting the store but cannot completely opt out of having it, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Charles Sousa had told The Canadian Press earlier on Friday.
“As we roll out the next phase of stores, we will continue to engage with municipalities on an ongoing basis including with those municipalities who may not be ready for a store opening in July 2018,” said Jessica Martin.
“Ultimately, our goal through a controlled model is to ensure a safe and sensible framework for cannabis legalization.”
Martin said the government has consulted with municipalities about its retail model through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
“Municipalities were involved in establishing the initial guidelines for siting stores, including achieving geographic distribution and combating illegal dispensaries,” she said.
But hours later, Martin said the government had not decided if municipalities will be able to opt out of hosting a cannabis store.
“The Liquor Control Board of Ontario will be addressing local concerns as they move forward with the siting process,” she said in a statement Friday night. “Those conversations will evolve as more details are revealed by the federal government, including a revenue model that will allow the province to recover costs and support municipalities when dealing with issues around enforcement, health care, education, and social programs.”
In October, Sousa wrote municipal leaders and said Ontario’s store rollout aimed to achieve the right geographic distribution across the province and to reduce the number of illegal marijuana dispensaries that have opened since the federal government announced its plan to legalize recreational marijuana next summer.
The public would also be notified about the proposed store locations and would be asked to provide feedback directly to the LCBO, he said. None of the retail stores would be located near schools, Sousa said.