Article by Jean Lepine, Toronto Sun
With new municipal councils being sworn in across Ontario this week, the debate on whether or not to opt-in to cannabis retail has moved from the philosophical to the real. Some councils have launched constituent consultations and online surveys to support eventual Council deliberation and decision. Municipal councils have until Jan. 22, 2019 to declare their intentions, so expect it to be raised over some holiday cheer this season.
It’s an early test for new councils, in many ways. It has the potential to bring out the best in their analytical skills. Looking at the perceived pluses and minuses of cannabis retail. If you look at this objectively, much of the heavy lifting has been done by other levels of government. The federal government legalized it for recreational purposes. The province delivered a private retail system design and will manage approvals and oversight just like they do for beer, wine and spirits.
On that point, an interesting piece was published last August by David Clement of the Consumer Choice Center. He argued that the opt-out provision in the province’s cannabis plan would give “prohibition a new face, that being local city councillors.” His opinion included that banning retail sales “won’t mean that consumers won’t be acquiring cannabis. All it means is that consumers will either continue to purchase it illegally, as they do now, or will have to buy it from a neighbouring town.”
As you might guess, there are very few strong voices for the yes side of this municipal debate although early rolling online surveys results would suggest there is a silent majority who support private retail in their communities.
We believe there is more upside for all stakeholders in full engagement with the legal cannabis retail sector rather than adopting the wait and see approach that, we believe, is principally based on stigmas and age-old perceptions of the traditional user. We recommend Councils adopt an “eyes wide open approach”, meet with prospective retailers, and ultimately set goals to deliver better economic and social outcomes by getting to the table working with the province and private retailers.