Brampton City Council opts-in on cannabis retail stores
Brampton will soon be giving new meaning to its monicker The Flower City. Months of speculation and the building of figurative walls came to an end Monday night as Brampton City Council voted to allow cannabis retail stores within its borders.
The special meeting was scheduled for just one day before the provincial deadline to opt-in or out. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of accepting retail cannabis stores in the city, with eight of the 11 council members voting in support.
Councillors Gurpreet Dhillon, Harkirat Singh, and the most stalwart adversary of cannabis, Charmaine Williams, voted against the motion brought forward by Rowena Santos. The meeting followed a weekend of back-and-forth between city officials and higher government representatives who advised that opting-in was in the city’s best interest.
Councillors Harkirat Singh and Gurpreet Dhillon
Last Friday, Mayor Patrick Brown sent a letter to Brampton’s elected officials at the provincial and federal levels. Five MPPs and two MPs offered responses that Brown interpreted as an endorsement of opting-in.
Brown told The Pointer that “we will take all their responses as opting-in.”
“Over the last several weeks, the City of Brampton has been listening to residents to gather their thoughts and opinions on this matter,” he wrote to the politicians. “Given the attention this issue has garnered, we also invite you to attend this special council meeting.”
MPPs Kevin Yarde and Sara Singh took the mayor up on his invitation and were present at the meeting. “Of course there are other municipalities like Markham and Mississauga who have opted-out. So the mayor is trying to gauge, obviously, from all the representatives — MPPs and MPs — where they stand, so we can finally put this matter to rest,” Yarde told The Pointer.
Brampton MPPs Kevin Yarde and Sara Singh
He continued, “unfortunately the Conservative government made us rush to a judgment and make a decision, which is obviously not something we wanted. We wanted a little bit more time to have discussions with the public.”
Brown shared Yarde’s disappointment in the province’s handling of the cannabis issue. Earlier in the day Monday, he held a news conference alongside Santos, saying he would vote in favour of opting-in. He took aim at the provincial government and what he described as the PCs passing the buck to cities — without actually passing over much money to pay for the costs of introducing legal cannabis within municipal borders.
Councillor Rowena Santos and Mayor Patrick Brown
“They are essentially saying to municipalities, ‘We’re not going to fund this policing cost to maintain public safety on your streets. You have to find it yourself.’ Well, what crime are we not going to respond to, to fund this?” Brown told reporters.
Brown has repeatedly said that the money the province is offering municipalities is a “pittance” and that he wanted to hold out for more. The Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund provides $30 million divided among municipalities across the province, with half of that going only to those that opt-in.
Retail cannabis is “a cash cow for the provincial and federal governments, but the policing costs are barely covered. Only 15 percent of the policing costs are covered. That is very much inadequate,” Brown told the press.
Back in the council chambers, the debate over whether to allow cannabis retail stores was at times heated. Williams, who had built a symbolic wall in her office to show her opposition to any shops coming to the city, voiced the most vocal opposition to Santos’ motion.
Councillor Charmaine Williams
“I know some of you do not like me using the term invasion, but we could get an invasion of pot stores with no warning, no notice and with no explanation,” Williams said in the council chamber.
The Ontario government plans to dispense only 25 licences in the initial year, distributed across the province, with stores expected to open at the beginning of April. One of the winners of the licence lottery was a Brampton-based entrepreneur, Clint Seukeran, who will be allowed to open a store somewhere in the GTA, though it’s not clear yet where that will be. It's unclear how many stores will be allowed to open after the initial roll-out with 25 retail outlets planned for 2019. It's likely that the legal sale of cannabis through regulated retail shops will eventually allow the market to dictate numbers, as demand and the monitored supply of the product even out. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government recently told The Pointer that earlier reports of cannabis shortages across Canada were not correct and that the regulated production chain is delivering more than enough supply to meet current demand. It will likely take months, if not years, for the legal cannabis market across the country to find its balance.
No one under 19 will be allowed in the retail outlets and the City of Brampton stated in a press release Monday that no stores will be located within 150 metres of schools. It provided the map below to illustrate where stores might be located in the future. For now, the April 1 launch of legal retail outlets probably won't include more than one or two shops in Brampton, as the GTA's four 905 regions will only get six for the initial roll-out.
A common theme throughout the debate in the city has been a general distrust of Premier Doug Ford. Williams and Brown, though disagreeing on the subject of pot-shops in Brampton, could find common ground in their feelings toward Ford.
“We have to decide, do we as a council trust Doug Ford’s government to protect us, or do we trust our residents who are telling us to opt-out and be cautious?” Williams said.
Time and time again she has brought up her own survey of residents and has said their clear opposition was the reason she wasn’t supporting retail cannabis. Her experience doesn't line up with consultation work done by the city.
Last December, staff presented the results of a poll conducted by Environics that showed a slight majority of respondents supported allowing retail shops in Brampton. Williams remains skeptical of those results.
Joining Williams in opposing the motion was Gurpreet Dhillon. He characterized the motion as “selling our soul” and advocated for opting-out until Bramptonians can learn from other municipalities’ experiences.
“My issue is this: the city has no control over how many pot-shops will open and where they locate. For this reason, I highly recommend that we opt-out from selling cannabis privately to send a strong message and use this decision to get provincial agreement for more local control,” Dhillon said in council.
At one point, when Dhillon ran over his allotted time to speak, Brown cut him off. A visibly angry Dhillon responded: “I don’t interrupt you when you are talking.”
Tension was high among members of the audience, who often heckled speakers as they offered their personal view on the issue.
Jotvinder Sodhi, of the Home Owner’s Welfare Association, delivered an impassioned speech opposing opting-in.
He highlighted what he described as the inability of Peel Region police to handle non-cannabis related crime, Brampton’s high auto insurance rates and long hospital wait times, arguing that approving cannabis shops would only increase the load on hospitals and police.
Brampton resident Anna-Marie Carreiro
Not to be outdone was Anna-Marie Carreiro, a Brampton resident who credits the shrinking of her brain tumor to cannabis. She initially received a terminal diagnosis in 2014 but stood tall and unaided in front of council when she said, “if Brampton were to be a city selected for a legal retail cannabis store, that store could provide jobs and revenue, which I think are positives since we are losing so many other retail stores.”
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