Town council will allow recreational cannabis retail stores within town limits but one councillor says the entire exercise has been “somewhat academic" given the way the provincial government has implemented a process for the issuance of licenses that leaves Rainy River District "out in the cold.”
Coun. Doug Judson said during Monday night's meeting that he wholeheartedly supports the recommendation of the Planning & Development executive committee to allow cannabis retail sales in Fort Frances.
“I think it is the appropriate course of action, and will allow us to observe best practices from communities that become home to cannabis businesses before we do,” he noted.
But Coun. Judson stressed he is disappointed with how communities in the northwest have been relegated to the sidelines in the whole licensing process.
“As you all know, only 25 licenses were available province-wide and just two for the north—a region spanning from Kenora to North Bay,” he remarked.
"We are told that over 17,000 expressions of interest were entered in the lottery.
“We have no indication that the two northern entrepreneurs actually have ties to Northern Ontario,” he added.
A further limitation ensured no entrepreneurs in this community would be able to take part because the initial stores would need to be opened in communities with a population of 50,000 or more.
There is only one community of that size in Northwestern Ontario—Thunder Bay, Coun. Judson indicated.
“Moreover, the financial penalties and timelines imposed under the licensing regulation have all but guaranteed that only large, well-financed, and established players will be able to participate—not exactly the standard-bearers of our small business economy,” he noted.
While not a cannabis advocate himself, Coun. Judson stressed he is, like others around the council table, an advocate for "fair economic opportunities and good public policy for our community and our region.
“And this is anything but,” he charged.
“The provincial government has wasted an opportunity to use this new industry to lift up communities in need of new business and those looking for growth opportunities,” Coun. Judson said.
“Instead of targeting communities or regions in transition, or northern First Nations, or those who had recently lost a major industry, or any number of other laudable policy goals in the public interest, they have doled out licences to anyone who woke up last Monday and decided to sell pot,” he remarked.
“It's a missed opportunity to advance broader public policy and economic growth goals.”
Both the provincial and federal governments have indicated their primary policy considerations include protecting youth, fighting the illegal market, and educating the public.
But as Coun. Judson pointed out, "it is unclear how we can fight the illegal market in our communities without a proximate safe supply, just as it is unclear how the province expects a selection of lottery winners to be the best-positioned to support these policy priorities and keep our communities safe.
“This is a significant disappointment for smaller, northern communities, including those entrepreneurs and economic development personnel who saw this as an opportunity to bring a new enterprise to our region,” he noted.
“I believe that cannabis retailing should be available to entrepreneurs in our community, but I am thoroughly disappointed with how communities in the northwest have been relegated to the sidelines in this process,” Coun. Judson reiterated.
Upon the recommendation of the Planning & Development executive committee, council passed a resolution Monday night allowing cannabis retail stores to operate in the Town of Fort Frances.
It also directed administration to provide written notice to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, notifying it of the municipality's decision to opt-in to allow retail cannabis stores by the Jan. 22 deadline, as per the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018.
But council also agreed to defer development of a municipal retail sales policy for recreational cannabis to a later date.