Article by Patrick Cain, Global News
One specific store planned for a western Scarborough strip mall about a 400-metre walk from the local public school was far too close.
In early May 2018, during the provincial election campaign, he brought it up in a televised debate.
“I won’t put [cannabis retail] beside schools like you did,” he told then-premier Kathleen Wynne. “It was beside a school on your watch.”
After he was elected premier, before details of the new PC government’s plan to sell legal weed was announced, he hammered the point again.
“My priority is to make sure that we protect our children. We don’t make the mistakes of the previous Liberal government by putting a pot store right beside a school, which is absolutely ridiculous, and it won’t happen under our administration,” he said.
In due course, however, the province was forced to say what the minimum distance between a school and a cannabis store would be — 150 metres — which meant that the mall location is just as legal a place to put a cannabis store as anywhere else.
On Wednesday, the logic came full circle, as one of 42 winners of a lottery for cannabis-store operators won with a proposed location in exactly the same place that Ford had sternly denounced.
“It’s not within 150 metres of a school, right? It doesn’t technically violate any of the rules,” says Ottawa-based cannabis lawyer Trina Fraser. “But yes, Doug Ford did make those public comments.”
When Global News visited the site last year, contractors were renovating it for use as a cannabis store. Under the previous Ontario government’s plan, it would have been one of the first of a network of government-owned cannabis stores to open.
There is a period for public objections, but Fraser says they’re unlikely to be upheld.
“I haven’t seen a situation yet where they would give any kind of credence to, ‘Well, maybe you’re not 150 metres from a school, but you’re 300 metres from a school or you’re next door to a Kumon learning centre.’ That doesn’t seem to have fazed the regulator,” she explains.
Unlike the first lottery, applicants in the latest draw had to show that they had secured retail space that could be used as a store if they were selected and that they had enough capital to open it.
The winners now have until Aug. 28 to complete an application to open a store that will be vetted by the AGCO.
“Unlike the prior government’s public retail model, our private retail system will keep cannabis out of the hands of kids by imposing serious consequences on any store that sells cannabis to minors,” provincial spokesperson Jenessa Crognali wrote in an e-mail. “Our government has a zero tolerance policy for private store operators. If a store sells to kids, it will lose its licence.”
“Having introduced strict consequences for operators under the private retail model, the government has determined that stores should be at least 150 metres away from a school.”
Another Toronto location is one city officials struggled to close
A surprising addition to the list was 104 Harbord St. in Toronto, one of the grey-market locations that frustrated city officials, who tried over and over to close it, eventually resorting to piling giant concrete blocks in front of the entrance.