Some Hamilton city councillors are frustrated with their lack of control over the location of cannabis retail stores, and worry that despite the city and community’s objections, the shops will continue to pop up in cheaper lots in neighbourhoods.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12) said he was outraged over a letter he received from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario about a cannabis retail application for 11 Hatton Dr. in Ancaster. The councillor, mayor, and city as a whole have been objecting to its location.
But the letter, which Ferguson held up to the camera, said the registrar found the proposed cannabis retail store authorization was “not contrary to the public interest.”
“To suggest that my community and I are apoplectic puts it mildly,” he said in Wednesday’s city council meeting.
“I need help. I don’t know what to do,” he added. “I repeatedly try to tell [my community] that we don’t have jurisdiction in this area, and [the AGCO] is blowing us off.”
Cannabis Roll is behind the application for the property, which is near Highway 403 and Fiddlers Green Road. The AGCO map of cannabis retail stores shows the store’s application as being in progress, but not yet authorized to open.
The city had filed an official objection to the AGCO, citing concerns with its location in a residential area, as well as for the neighbourhood kids. The mayor had also asked the Ministry of the Attorney General to deny the application.
Ferguson said he explored potentially rezoning the site, but was told that wouldn’t be possible. He said people raising their concerns aren’t opposed to cannabis stores, but don’t want them near their homes.
“This could happen to any one of us,” he said. “That they find a cheap location, because it’s an old closed variety store, to plunk a cannabis store down.”
Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development, said the zoning of this particular site dates back to the 1980s, as many small, commercial uses within residential areas “often do.”
The city has put forward “a number of good suggestions” on tackling these sorts of issues, he said, but they’ve been denied. He said these included allowing municipalities to regulate through licensing, to differentiate dispensaries from other commercial forms of retail use, and to have a broader separation distances from places like residential areas.
Councillor says MPPs have been silent, but they disagree
Coun. Chad Collins (Ward 5, Centennial) said the provincial government should be taking action. He said the “only way” things might change for municipalities would be if MPPs called on the government to make “simple changes” to current legislation.
But the MPPs in Hamilton, he said, have been “absolutely silent.”
“Where are our local MPPs?” he asked. “I think it’s about time the city starts calling on them for assistance.”
Sandy Shaw, NDP MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, said she’s talked to Ferguson and written to the Ministry of the Attorney General not only about this property, but about how the process needs be changed to give communities a “voice.”
“I have not been silent,” she said. This wasn’t about opposition to cannabis retailing, she said, but ensuring municipalities and residents have “meaningful input” into the location. She said Marit Stiles, NDP MPP for Davenport in Toronto, has a private member’s bill to give communities a stronger role in the licensing process.
Stomach in knots
PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook Donna Skelly said she addresses questions about cannabis whenever they come to her. Skelly also told CBC News that she was unsure about what the councillor was fighting against.