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Surprised by thriving illicit market, Ontario officials rethink cannabis retail

For many in Ontario, the decision to opt in or out of cannabis retail was decided months ago, but two Ontario communities are proving the question remains open for some.

While industry continues to appeal desperately for Ontario to open more stores following its lethargic retail rollout, Mississauga and Windsor each face questions about which retail choice is best for their communities.

When Premier Doug Ford announced in August 2018 that Ontario would privatize adult-use cannabis retail, his government guaranteed individual municipalities could opt out of having stores in their communities.

They were also given the right to start by opting out before changing their minds and opting in at a later date.

Last December, Mississauga opted out of allowing cannabis retail within its borders. The same week, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins expressed his support for opting out, at least for the first “60 days or six months or a year.”

Ultimately, however, Windsor surveyed its residents and decided to allow cannabis retail out of the gate. Or rather, it would have, had any of the first 24 license-lottery winners chosen to open in the City of Roses.

Thanks to the slow pace of Ontario cannabis retail, Windsor had plenty of time to think about how it might approach cannabis stores within its limits.

Once news broke in August that London entrepreneur Kirk Anastasiadis, a winner of the second retail license lottery, planned to open a store in Windsor, the city has been arguing over where the store can be safely located.

The City of Windsor formally opposed the store’s proposed location, arguing it was too close to a school, a mental health crisis centre, and an alley, even though the location is outside the province’s 150-metre buffer zone around schools.

Critics argued the report on which the city based its opposition considered the potential impact of the store on an unreasonably wide buffer of 500 metres (roughly two city blocks lengthwise).

Windsor city councillors delegated the authority for reviewing cannabis retail applications to city administration and had no say in the city’s opposition to the proposed storefront. Now some councillors say they disagree with the city’s decision.

As Windsor attempts to work through its second thoughts about cannabis retail, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is doing the same.

Reporting she was “very startled” by the number of unlicensed dispensaries that continue to operate in Mississauga, Crombie said she realized it cost the city more to opt out of retail than to allow stores.

“Certainly, there would be a much higher bylaw cost than we had anticipated given the proliferation of the illegal outlets to purchase,” Crombie said.

Accordingly, Mississauga will begin discussions in the new year about allowing cannabis retail.

Jesse B. Staniforth's Bio Image
Jesse B. Staniforth

Jesse Staniforth reports on cannabis, food safety, and Indigenous issues. He is the former editor of WeedWeek Canada.

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