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In or out? How some Ontario municipalities are reacting to Ford’s pot shop plan

While most Ontario municipal politicians are in wait-and-see mode over the province’s one-time chance to opt out of permitting cannabis stores within their boundaries, some mayors have already made up their minds.

Canada’s largest province abruptly changed its marijuana sales model Monday, paving the way for privately-run, bricks-and-mortar stores but delaying their debut until April 2019.

Still, a number of questions – including what the retail framework will look like and how the opt-out process will play out – remain unanswered.

The province will begin consultations with local politicians at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s annual conference that begins in Ottawa this Saturday. The overhaul also makes cannabis a hot-button issue for municipal elections on Oct. 22, given that newly-elected officials will ultimately decide the future of marijuana retail in their jurisdictions.

Here’s a look at how some Ontario municipalities are reacting so far to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s plan for marijuana retail.

Richmond Hill

Population: 195,022

Richmond Hill Mayor David Barrow told BNN Bloomberg in an interview Wednesday his municipality will choose to opt-out of permitting cannabis retail sales.

“It sets this up to be something that’s an acceptable way of life,” Barrow said. “And I know that there are families with children … [it] seems the community is saying to me and members of council that we don’t want to be part of it, period.”

The mayor added he isn’t concerned that Richmond Hill could miss out on potential economic benefits from allowing bricks-and-mortar cannabis sales in his town.

“Whatever the provinces gain out of this goes to all of us in Ontario,” Barrow said. “I look at Smiths Falls – they’re looking to grow it as a job booster in their community and that’s fine.

“It’s the dispensing and the retailing … that’s what our families aren’t prepared to do.”

Markham

Population: 328,966

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti’s office said the city also plans to opt out of permitting marijuana stores.

“Mayor Scarpitti applauds [the] Ford government on allowing municipalities to have a say on whether or not retail outlets will be permitted,” spokesperson Alexander Fung said in an email to BNN Bloomberg. “When the proposed legislation is passed, the City of Markham will be opting out.”

Toronto

Population: 5,429,524

Toronto Mayor John Tory has said he supports legalization if safety and public health are protected and the city is not “burdened with the additional costs created by these changes.”

In a statement released earlier this week, Tory’s office also said he wants to see “exact details on how that safety will be ensured before supporting a private retail model.”

Smiths Falls

Population: 8,885

The mayor of Smiths Falls – the home of Canopy Growth Corp.’s Tweed facility – said he continues to support the introduction of retail marijuana sales in his town.

“I have personally championed having retail sales available in our town and will continue to do so if re-elected,” said Shawn Pankow, in an email to BNN Bloomberg. “I believe the majority of the existing council would agree but cannot speak for the next council.”

He added that the town’s residents are mostly supportive of Smiths Falls being viewed as a “cannabis wonderland.”

“The presence, and impact, of Tweed locally has warmed the entire community to the benefits of this changing landscape,” Pankow said.

“We wouldn’t want retail outlets on every street corner but recognize cannabis will eventually be available in different forms … I am confident the community would be supportive of a cannabis-friendly coffee shop or the sale of cannabis-infused beverages and consumables at other suitable locations.”

Leamington

Population: 32,991

The mayor of Leamington, the town that’s home to Aphria Inc.’s production facility, said it’s highly unlikely that the municipality would opt out of cannabis retail stores.

“It would seem counterintuitive for us to welcome Aphria and two other major players, locating in the very near future, into our town only to say no to retail distribution of their product,” said Leamington Mayor John Paterson in an email to BNN Bloomberg, noting that its town council has not had a formal discussion yet on Ontario’s revised pot plan.

Paterson would not disclose which additional producers are planning to open facilities in Leamington but said they are “already major players.”

“Jobs and tax revenue are the benefits for the community, not to mention the generous donations the owners of Aphria have already made to our town over the past few years.”

Mississauga

Population: 721,599

The office of Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said Ontario’s private retail model will present new challenges, as the city had been planning for a model run by the LCBO.

Crombie also raised concerns about cannabis retail sites disrupting current and longstanding businesses, in addition to protecting public safety.

“I am pleased the Ontario government has committed to working with municipalities to develop the legislation, but more importantly, has allotted time for us to consult with our community,” Crombie said in an emailed statement to BNN Bloomberg.

“It is important that we get this right.”

Oakville

Population: 193,832

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton said at a press conference Thursday he will vote to opt out of private retail cannabis stores in his town if he’s re-elected.

“The government’s plan for mail-order-delivery means people who want it will get access to cannabis and people who don’t want multiple cannabis stores across towns can be respected, too, if we opt out,” Burton said.

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