Stone walled – working to find a cannabis retail fix

Since the legalization of Cannabis in Canada, we watched as all government levels navigated this new terrain – from determining quantities, access and distribution – there were several unknowns at the beginning that now seem to be mostly sorted out.  

The decision to allow private retail shops to distribute the product made an exciting landscape for obtaining cannabis legally.  

The second step of municipalities being able to opt-in, also helped define how we as a City would manage. 

The initial introduction of a lottery and the slow integration into Ottawa – saw several shops – three to date in our Ward.  

I have found daunting and continually frustrating that the simple steps that a Councillor and a community we are taking to share concerns and feedback are not considered seriously.  

I am concerned about the concentration of cannabis shops in one specific area of the City and am in favour of an LCBO-like model. Additionally, I want City oversight as it relates to separation distances for cannabis retail applications.  

These concerns are echoed in every one of my comments regarding a pending application for a Ward’s retail cannabis shop.  

To date, I have found these comments go wholly under-considered.

To address this, I raised an inquiry at Council in June about a municipality’s purview to accept or reject an application, a request that accessibility standards are reviewed and considered.  

My questions were: 

1 What is the City’s responsibility to make sure a concentration of cannabis licenses in one commercial area is not created? 

2. What is the level of City engagement and consultation with the AGCO as it relates to cannabis licenses? 

3. Can the City describe its current efforts to encourage healthy retail mix in the City, and specifically in the ByWard Market? 

4. Can the City please inform us with the best approach to prevent and resolve concentration risks of Cannabis Licenses to an area? 

Unfortunately, the answers point to the fact that a municipality has very little pull when it comes to affecting change or ensuring these retail shops consider all areas of concern before being approved.  

According to the Cannabis License Act, 2018 and Ontario Regulation 468/18 when making decisions on cannabis retail authorizations, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario Registrar must only take into consideration factors related to the public interest. Matters of the public interest have been narrowly defined in the Regulation as those relating to:  

1. Protecting public health and safety; 

2. Protecting youth and restricting their access to cannabis; and 

3. Preventing illicit activities in relation to cannabis 

This does not restrict an application from being opened in proximity to a park or another cannabis store.  

Furthermore, throughout this process, AGCO staff have been clear that municipalities’ role is a commenting one only – and those comments must be directly related to “public interest.”  

In a district like the ByWard Market, an important factor that maintains is its local and tourism attraction. This is captured with a diverse range of businesses, attracting a wide range of demographics including seniors, families and young adults. 

Additionally, my concerns about accessibility requirements also become something of a second thought to the AGCO when approving an application – I have also raised this with staff.  

Currently, any new building must meet accessibility standards, but any older buildings do not.  These are two issues unlike the LCBO model.  LCBO’s are present in every community and all stores are fully accessible. 

This is unacceptable to me – it is a new industry, and it is 2020.  

I introduced a motion at council to address these concerns. It carried unanimously. The Mayor will communicate these concerns to Doug Downey, the Attorney General of Ontario.   

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