Brown says responses from Brampton MPs and MPPs are endorsements to opt-in to legal cannabis shops in the city
Photos by Mansoor Tanweer/graphics by Joel Wittnebel

Brown says responses from Brampton MPs and MPPs are endorsements to opt-in to legal cannabis shops in the city

Mayor Patrick Brown says responses from local politicians to the question of whether or not to allow legal cannabis shops in the city amount to endorsements to opt-in.

Five MPPs and two MPs told the mayor that if no position is taken either way by the city, under provincial rules that means Brampton is opting in.

Since the seven elected members did not tell Brown to opt-out, he is presenting their position as an endorsement to allow legal cannabis shops in the city.

Council will vote yes or no Monday evening at a special meeting.

“We will take all their responses as being opt-in,” Brown told The Pointer.

The five MPPs who responded to a letter Brown sent last week were joined by Liberal MPs Ruby Sahota and Sonia Sidhu, who Brown said also responded with the same message, that the decision is up to council, but that if no position is taken, that’s an endorsement of opting in.

Brampton Liberal MP Ruby Sahota 

All but one of Brampton’s five MPs voted in 2017 to legalize cannabis across the country, and Brown wanted to know, since it was their decision, whether they would allow retail marijuana shops in Brampton or not.

Brown sent a letter on Friday to each of the city’s five MPs, all of whom were elected as Liberals, prior to Raj Grewal’s dismissal from the party late last year, following his gambling scandal. He is now an independent. Grewal was one of four Liberal MPs who voted in November 2017 in favour of Bill C-45, which made recreational cannabis use and its regulated supply legal across Canada. Sidhu, who represents the Brampton South riding, did not vote.

Brampton Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu

“I am requesting your immediate attention,” the letter begins. “As you are aware the Government of Ontario has given municipalities until January 22, 2019, to determine whether legally licensed cannabis retailers can operate within its municipal boundaries. Over the last several weeks, the City of Brampton has been listening to residents to gather their thoughts and opinions on this matter … Since it was your government that approved the use of recreational cannabis, to date, we have yet to hear from you!”

Brown expressed a hope to receive written comments from the federal politicians by the end of the workday Friday. A final decision is to be made by council during a special meeting on Jan. 21.

“For the public record, we will be highlighting which elected officials provided their position and those who have not at the meeting. Given the attention this issue has garnered, we also invite you to attend this Special Council meeting. Please let me know if you are available to attend. Thank you for your attention to this important issue being debated on Monday evening at the Brampton City Council meeting,” the letter concluded.

Meanwhile, at a committee meeting last week Councillor Rowena Santos addressed the “elephant in the room” when she questioned the use of lawn signs by fellow-Councillor Charmaine Williams, who has been a strong advocate against legal cannabis shops.

Brampton Councillor Rowena Santos

City staff told council that the lawn signs, signalling a resident’s position against cannabis outlets in the city, are a violation of bylaws and enforcement officers have been removing them, including from Williams’ own lawn.

A day earlier, she held a press conference calling for all GTA municipalities outside Toronto, which has already opted in, to unite and reject legal cannabis shops. She asked for a metaphorical “wall” to be built around the GTA to prevent cannabis from getting in, presumably in reference to American President Donald Trump's call for a wall along the U.S. - Mexico border.

Her press release stated: “You can call it what you want, but I call it an invasion of our neighbourhoods … If you believe like me that this process is too rushed, too dangerous and too much like an invasion then I ask you to join me in protecting neighbourhoods across the GTA.”

A recent town hall meeting hosted by the City of Brampton at City Hall shone a spotlight on the wide divide that exists across the community on this subject. The discussion echoed the results of a survey commissioned by the city in December, showing a fairly even split down the middle between those for and against the shops.

The Environics survey of 910 residents that showed 54 percent of respondents sampled said they “strongly” or “somewhat” supported pot shops in Brampton, while 40 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” opposed them. Only 6 percent of survey respondents were undecided. The results of that survey bolstered an early staff recommendation to opt-in and allow the shops, but council ignored that recommendation in favour of further consultation with the community.

Council’s final decision this evening will come just one day ahead of the province’s Jan. 22 deadline, and there is a lot for councillors to consider.

On the surface, many in the opt-in camp point to the tax revenue the city stands to gain by allowing retail stores. Some $15 million is scheduled to start flowing this month from the provincial government, to be split among all municipalities in Ontario to help them deal with the initial impacts of cannabis legalization. Following that, an additional $15 million will be split among municipalities that choose to opt-in to the provincial retail model.

The funding has consistently been a sticking point for Brown, who reiterated his campaign mantra that the relatively small amount dedicated to helping municipalities deal with cannabis was another instance of Brampton not getting its fair share.

An initial analysis by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2017 found that, per 500,000 population, municipalities could expect extra administration costs stemming from cannabis legalization in the range of $750,000 to $1.5 million.

On Jan. 11 the province held a lottery to pick which 25 applicants, from almost 17,000 across the province, will get a shop. Of the six licences being allotted to the GTA region (which includes Peel, Halton, Durham and York regions), one was awarded to CGS Foods Inc., owned by Brampton resident Clint Seukeran.

Brampton resident Clint Seukeran

Seukeran, who said he has very little experience in the cannabis industry, will be turning to Mississauga-based Cannabis Compliance Inc. to help launch his business. It’s unclear where he will open his store, after deciding on a location once cities have determined what they will do. Mississauga City Council has already voted to opt-out of the province’s retail model, closing its borders to cannabis retail stores, at least for now.

The spectre of rising crime was raised at several points during the meeting in the City Hall Conservatory. Both sides of the debate seized on the potential impact of retail stores on the criminal element, with opinions split on whether these stores would help reduce black-market drug dealing or simply offer an easier avenue for youth to obtain the drug.

Those advocating for legal, well-regulated stores suggested they would eliminate black-market dealers and help keep the drug out of young hands. Others said legal shops will simply encourage cannabis use out in the open, and that marijuana is often a gateway drug to much more dangerous intoxicants. 

The special council meeting for the cannabis vote begins this evening (Monday, Jan. 21) at 7 p.m. inside City Hall's West Tower. 

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