Towns and cities across Ontario are voting to go hazy – or not.
That’s the best term I can come up with votes by municipal councils across the province to decide if they will allow private cannabis retailers to open up shop in their communities.
Voting to go hazy is reminiscent of the old days when towns and counties in Ontario voted to “wet” or “dry” to permit liquor stores and bars to open.
Recreational cannabis possession for up to 30 grams became legal across Canada on October 17, 2018. In Ontario, the government first decided to limit retail sales to online orders and eventual retail stores operated by the provincially-owned Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS). Then, the government changed the plan. Online sales would be through the OCS, and stores would be privately owned and operated, but licensed through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
The OCS has been sending out cannabis across the province in little packages since legalization day while the government has been preparing the retail store organization.
Every incorporated municipality has until January 22 to inform the AGCO if they will allow a licensed operator to open a cannabis store within their limits.
Unlike the days when every citizen got to vote on if their town should go dry or wet, saying yes or no to a marijuana market has been left up to councils to decide. For many mayors and councilors, it was one of the first major decisions they had to make as many of them were only elected last October and took office in December.
At the time of writing this, more municipalities had voted in favor of allowing reefers by retail than not. If the January 22 deadline is missed, councils can still vote to opt-in later, but there’s no opting out.
Municipalities along the St. Lawrence River in eastern Ontario that have said yes so far include Kingston, Gananoque, Front of Yonge in the Thousand Islands, South Stormont, and South Glengarry.
Further north Ottawa and Clarence-Rockland have voted in favor, along with Russell, La Nation, and Hawkesbury.
When La Nation voted to allow retail marijuana on January 7, there was very little debate among council members. The municipal planning department had conducted an online survey and over 60% of the respondents supported the idea which seemed like enough evidence for council to make a unanimous decision.
However, don’t expect to see a cannabis store open on Wolfe Island anytime soon. Frontenac Islands council voted no.
On January 11, the AGCO did what they’re professionals at and held a lottery. This wasn’t the usual lottery with prizes of cash, cars, and vacations, it was to select the 25-business people or companies that will be the first to operate licensed cannabis stores across Ontario. You could call it a pot luck event I suppose. Only five licences were issued in the eastern region of the province, which goes all the way from Peterborough in the west to east of Cornwall and north from Lake Ontario to Algonquin Park.
There’s no indication yet about where the lottery winners will open stores, but further rounds of licence draws will be held. The government has decided to take an incremental approach to retail stores.
And, the OCS will continue to take online orders and deliver to customer’s mailboxes. It seems like an antiquated way of selling a product. I suppose it’s discreet though for people who don’t want to be seen by their family and friends going into a store to buy marijuana. It’s like being in your early 20s in a small town and being afraid those who disapprove of alcohol will see you going into a beer or liquor store. In my case (no pun intended), the clerk at the beer store happened to be my recently-retired sixth grade teacher who had taken on a part-time job.
Selling cannabis at a private store seems ironic in a province where hard liquor can only be sold in government liquor stores and beer or wine sales are strictly limited to specific stores or a limited number of private establishments. Of course, maybe that could change too?